Super Bowl LII supplied viewers with three unexpected things this past Sunday: bad commercials, a win for the Eagles, and The Cloverfield Paradox.

While mindlessly watching a game that was about as up and down as Tom Brady’s mood, this fantastic surprise was more than I could handle. The spot gave our third Cloverfield installment it’s official name (surprise, it’s not God Particle!), a few intriguing details (not a surprise, Daniel Bruhl and Elizabeth Debicki are part of the cast and it does take place in space), and a release date (surprise, it’s available on Netflix immediately following the game!).

I’m not sure what kind of deal was made between Netflix and the Super Bowl head honchos, but forcing us to wait for the game to be finished to watch our incredibly, heavily anticipated third Cloverfield deserved a penalty flag in the very least. I guess the Super Bowl didn’t want to lose viewers following the spot release.

With all of the recent Cloververse news and the fact that 10 Cloverfield Lane’s spot premiered during Super Bowl L, I wasn’t shocked that this would be the way the third would debut. In fact, I waited patiently for it. Knowing I would have to sleep off countless Super Bowl beers and endure a full day of work before I could actually sit and watch it was terribly annoying though. Most people work on Mondays, right?

This spontaneous release did follow in the Cloververse pattern: no marketing, ARG pre-release, intense speculations, and instant release to audiences. However, I was a little disappointed to see that from the supposed premise down to the casting details, it was pretty much what everyone was expecting. Not necessarily a deal breaker, but this is Cloverfield we’re talking about. We’re supposed to know little to nothing about the movie details- that’s the best part of the franchise. The biggest, but already rumored surprise we received from this was a Netflix format release. Penalty!

But, with all that said, I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t incredibly excited to watch it. The Cloverfield Paradox is directed by Julius Onah, a newcomer to the scene known for his work mainly on short films. I have a lot to say about Mr. Onah, but I’ll save that for later. The film stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty and the Beast), Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious Bastards), Elizabeth Debicki (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids).

The plot summary on Netflix states “Orbiting above a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality”. It’s extremely hard to summarize a movie like this without creating ungodly amounts of confusion and without giving things away, so, naturally, SPOILERS!!!

 

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The film focuses mainly on crew member Ava Hamilton who, aboard a spaceship attempting to harvest energy from space, is faced with a pretty heavy decision after things go wrong. Earth is running out of energy and the threat of war with Russia and Germany is pulsating. Hamilton decides to take this mission following the aftermath of her and her husband’s loss of their two children. The crew are firing off a large particle accelerator called “The Shepard” (I see why the film was titled God Particle now) and after years of getting it wrong, they think they get it right. Of course all does not go to plan and the crew members find that not only have they failed at containing energy, but they have collided with another dimension.

The ripple effects cause danger at every turn. Hamilton’s husband remains on Earth dealing with the disasters caused by the Cloverfield monster and its rampage, which reportedly were scenes added in after filming had already wrapped. In attempts to fix the ship’s damages and return to the correct dimension, crew members are effected by the dimensional collision and are killed one-by-one. Hamilton contemplates the possibility of remaining in the new dimension where her children are alive, but ultimately chooses against it. She and the remaining survivor, Schmidt, are successful in returning to the proper dimension and locating earth. As the film ends and the two descend to earth in their escape pod, our big, bad, Cloverfield monster emerges from the clouds below them.

It’s extremely important to know that this film was not written or directed with the intention of it being part of the Cloververse. The film was created, in production, and later adapted to be a Cloverfield installment.

What’s interesting is that the same process happened with 10 Cloverfield Lane. The film was a stand-alone at first and was later adapted to include Cloverfield elements and plot. The unfortunate thing about this is that 10 Cloverfield Lane did this more effectively than The Cloverfield Paradox did. 10 Cloverfield Lane was more the ‘sister’ movie to Cloverfield so it was easier to take a simple sub-plot, strangers trapped in a bunker, and include the Tagruato and Slusho! easter eggs and mold the ending to fit it into the Cloververse. This did not work for The Cloverfield Paradox simply because this was billed as our Cloverfield monster’s origins story. An origin story will require a little bit more planning, thought and craft.

What I really liked about The Cloverfield Paradox was that for a story to include multi-dimensional layers and holes created in time, it stayed very grounded and easy to follow. When characters start messing around with space and time and dimensions the audience is almost always immediately lost. Here we know exactly what happened, exactly where they are, and exactly where they need to go, but the plot’s downfall is essentially in the details.

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After attempting to contain useable energy in space, the crew of Cloverfield Station accidentally collide their existing dimension with another dimension. Apparently the dimensions out there range from all too similar to completely outrageous, from what I infer. The crew begin to experience some oddities including a new, misplaced crew member named Jensen claiming to know the rest of the members and be on the same mission with them in a different dimension, a member’s arm being sucked into the wall, severed, and having a mind of it’s own, false transmission messages sent from the captain to his German commander implicating him of heresy, a crew member’s eye becomes almost robotic, he begins speaking to himself or some unseen entity, convulses and explodes into worms, and has the ship’s compass inside of his stomach.

Do any of these make sense? No. They’re really not supposed to as they are the result of a collision of dimensions. Is that a problem for some viewers? Certainly. We are given these oddities and occurrences to prove that there are other dimensions out there, sometimes they are identical to our existing one, sometimes they’re completely different. I sort of like that the writers do not go too far into this because, again, it gets confusing and messy. What I don’t like, and it’s probably the biggest problem I have with this installment, is that we are supposed to believe that the Cloverfield monster is the result of this collision.

Due to the dimensions overlapping or mashing up or whatever it is they did with the Shepard particle device, it’s obvious that the state they find themselves in is different from the one they inhabited before. We get this through the little oddity examples. Earth, unfortunately, gets the Cloverfield monster. In what way is an item going missing, a person replacing another, and an arm being severed equal to the appearance of an enormous Godzilla-like monster in the middle of New York City? If the dimensions collided were the people of earth experiencing random oddities the way the crew members did? Did people randomly lose limbs? Did people randomly disappear and reappear in strange places all over the world? Did other people randomly vomit up weird objects? No. If they did, it wouldn’t seem like a haphazard attempt to turn this into a Cloverfield movie.

 

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These oddities were reserved for the story of the crew members because that is what this film initially was about. Earth was given the sole Cloverfield monster as a way to give it an origin and that, to me, is unbelievably cheap. It’s almost an afterthought and I think the franchise deserves more. The Cloverfield Paradox is an actual theory in the film (mentioned for about half of a minute) by a writer warning people on the news that outsourcing our energy could lead to a rift in the world as we know it. A tear in time and space could lead to the emergence of monsters, or demons even. Again, this seems like something added in after-the-fact. Not to mention, it was completely disproportional and irrelevant to the happenings in space. The Cloverfield monster and its destruction of New York City being the result of a dimensional collision are a complete stretch made in an effort to absorb this smart story concept and spit out a Cloverfield installment.

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This film is basically one big square peg trying to fit itself into a smaller, round hole. You can’t slap some Tagruato stickers on the station’s doors, include a Slusho! figurine, two monster scenes and call this Cloverfield. Penalty, penalty, and penalty! Now, I don’t think the story being worked into the Cloververse ruined it, but it definitely kept a good film from being a great film.

Onah had all of the top notch elements in The Cloverfield Paradox. His cast was excellent with stellar performances from all. Debicki was magnetic, Mbatha-Raw was the epitome of a real leading lady, O’Dowd offered the perfect amount of comic relief, and Daniel Bruhl was every bit the flawed (but confident) man you’d expect him to play. As a viewer you somehow instantly care about these characters and worry more about their troubles, than the bigger issue at large on Earth. Their dialogue was fluid and the relationships were both cohesive and complicated.

The imagery and visual effects were meaningful, effective, and very well done. The first scene of the monster was tasteful in that it wasn’t completely visible, but was made for us to know it was there. I also liked, despite my better judgement, the monster’s jump scare at the end. I really wasn’t expecting it, the CGI looked good, and it reminded me of the ending of the first film. If anything, you could say the ending scene was fun, but left you with the bitter taste of dread.

The camera angles zooming and slowing down the halls of the ship created the distinct aura of claustrophobia. Each of the oddity effects (every single thing that happened to the crew member Volkov, Mundy’s arm, etc.) were visually pleasing and horrifyingly realistic. Jensen appearing randomly in the wall of the ship within the wiring and tubing screaming actually had me sinking into the couch cushions. Again, the scene really got me as it was all calm emotion and carefully paced tension up until that point. Volkov’s body horror events, although similar to a lot of past films, were extremely creepy and distressing. It’s a shame that all of the scariest, violent, and tense scenes were given up within the first 45 minutes. The rest of the film remains pretty PG. I’ve never made a movie, but I’m pretty sure the point of one is to build the suspense and increase the feeling of dread and terror toward the climax, not the opposite. I wanted more from it over time, not less.

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I had read that Onah was influenced by Event Horizon, but this truly is nowhere near that ring of horror. The whole film borrows vibes, if not more, from the likes of Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas. The score instantly reminded me of that from Abrams’ Spielberg-inspired Super 8 where it wanted to indicate a tone of dread, but added a little wonder and whimsy which, to me, indicates hope. This kind of made everything a little more light-hearted as if this was a fun space adventure, not the really scary realization that not only could the world end quickly, but you could also be easily blasted into another weird dimension forever. It would have served The Cloverfield Paradox more to have a score similar to Jerry Goldsmith’s from Alien, rather than the scenes the film borrowed from it.

A few scenes particularly grabbed me, but not in the good way. I found myself shrieking (in my head) at the decisions made by some of these characters that I assume are extremely well-educated since they are the ones chosen to go into space to harvest energy for the Earth.

After firing off the Shepard resulting in what the crew believes to be a success they find the Earth is gone (Doh!) and a monstrous screaming is heard from within the wall of the ship. Immediately and with hardly any hesitation these people begin removing the wall to see what’s on the other side. You’re in space. Something has clearly gone wrong. Something unknown is screaming and luckily its coming from outside the room you are in. Why would you open up the wall to easily allow whatever is outside to come in? I don’t know which possibility would be worse: an alien monster, or a nasty parasite, or something worse. I won’t even stand too close to someone coughing in line at Starbucks, so I can’t imagine why super smart astronauts and physicists would brashly open the walls of their ship to see what the unknown screaming source is. Curiosity killed the cat, and there is no Jones on board this space station. Penalty!

In another scene following, Volkov is obviously undergoing some sort of change or transformation. The fact that his eye is moving around on its own, he’s talking to himself in the mirror, and something is crawling beneath his skin would indicate that this transformation is not the good kind. If Alien taught us one thing it’s don’t let the sick or the odd stay on the ship! Volkov conveniently uses the 3D printer to create a gun, begins firing at the crew members due to some superficial nationality paranoia, and goes into a convulsion. Note: when a crew member convulses at any point during your space voyage, eject him or her into the mesosphere immediately. The crew of the Shepard, apparently too curious as to what he’ll do instead of  keeping their distance to avoid contact with him, gather round as he pulls a Kane and bursts carnage all over the room. The carnage includes worms that went missing during the dimension merger as well as the missing fancy compass. In the merger dimension, Volkov was obviously a suitcase of some sorts.

I can pick a part a few other scenes, but for review purposes I’ll keep it at those examples. The fact remains that the movie wasn’t bad. People like to label films as ‘bad’ if there is a mistake or two or possibly a situation they don’t agree with. The Cloverfield Paradox is actually a very good movie, but when contrasted with the unique Cloverfield and the crafty 10 Cloverfield Lane, it just does not stand as tall. I don’t feel suckered into watching it, I don’t feel angry over it (annoyed at best), and I don’t hate it. I don’t know how to really feel about it it for two reasons:

 
  1. I know the Cloververse is not ending with The Cloverfield Paradox. I have lingering questions, but (thanks to the film’s score) I still have some hope that will answer those and possibly strengthen the franchise’s purpose.
  2. I understand why I don’t love it. J.J. Abrams had a process and formula that worked extremely well before, so it’s natural that he would try it again. An existing project was adapted into the Cloververse with 10 Cloverfield Lane and it worked. The same happened with this film, but it didn’t work. I respect the attempt, I just don’t appreciate the result.

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Like the Super Bowl, the outcome of this release was a coin toss. It’s safe to say the Eagles had a better night than J.J. Abrams did. I’m sorry, J.J.

I’m not sure if they were aiming for this or not, but The Cloverfield Paradox is pretty much a paradox itself. It looks like a Cloverfield movie, it has Cloverfield in it, it is released like a Cloverfield movie, we are told it’s a Cloverfield movie, but in reality it’s not a Cloverfield movie. Like the Penrose staircase, this should have pushed the franchise further, but it actually got it nowhere. Stating “The Cloverfield Paradox is a Cloverfield movie” is a paradox. It’s conflicting because it actually wasn’t a Cloverfield movie and that’s obvious. It’s literally leaving me conflicted inside. I don’t know if that makes the film title beyond smart or severely irritating. Penalty!

I’m taking a (forced) break from the Cloververse for a bit… I’ll be on the bench.