Warning: There are spoilers. And no, I’m not going to feel bad about it.
I’m not a fan of Cloverfield (though I wanted so badly to be) and the post Super Bowl release of The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix has solidified that opinion once and for all. Set 20 years after the original, any ties to the other films in the series are so loosely and incoherently made as to be a complete distraction to the entire plot. Let me explain.
The year is 2028 (20 years after the “Cloverfield Incident”) and there is an energy crisis pushing the world to the brink of war. A group of scientists aboard an ultra-advanced space station are using a particle accelerator trying to create limitless free energy for the planet. After two years of failures and barely enough fuel left to continue their experiments, they almost succeed but manage to somehow warp themselves into a slightly parallel universe, where the energy crisis has already resulted in full-scale war. Dealing with treachery, danger and crisis, the surviving crew manages to warp themselves back to their version of Earth and save the world with free power. Unfortunately, as they return, an even more giant version of the monster from the original Cloverfield breaks through the clouds and swallows their space capsule whole.
What the actual fuck?!
J.J. Abrams and his team have been working on this movie for six years. SIX YEARS. What could have been an actual science-fiction thriller or sci-fi/horror epic became a lackluster discussion on current affairs, but in space with a B-storyline about mysterious explosions and disasters culminating in a giant monster tear-assing its way down the Atlantic seaboard. I can’t even begin to tell you just how infuriating this is. See, I watched the original, despite the fact that I loathe found-footage horror. It had a few cool moments, but left you with lots of unanswered questions. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a taut, survivalist horror-thriller ruined in the last 15 minutes by a subplot about alien invasion. The Cloverfield Paradox does absolutely nothing but further muddy the waters of this seemingly shared universe.
After 10 Cloverfield Lane, Abrams said he was making a sort of anthology out of the series with shared elements, but totally different stories. This is also from the same man who said he didn’t want to put the giant monster in the Cloverfield sequel because, by the time he got around to making it, Kaiju movies had been “played out.” Just two years later, though, he threw one back in to the third installment of this franchise, so he’s clearly changed his mind.
Meanwhile, the characters are flat, formulaic set pieces who fit into very familiar places: The tortured hero, trying to redeem herself. The crazed nationalist/patriot. The stoic, self-sacrificing captain. The comic relief. I could list them all, but that would require me to continue thinking about them. Of course, then we get to the B-story, which is, quite frankly, barely a story at all. Most of it is just random smatterings of the heroine’s husband on the phone reacting to fire, smoke and phone conversations we don’t get to hear while being cryptic about the chaos ensuing around him. Oh, and he also rescues/kidnaps a little girl and takes her to a bunker we had no prior mention of.
As is the case with Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Cloverfield Paradox is listless and without any real resolution or explanation. It does nothing to further any larger plot that might be forming within the film series and even less to tell a singular, cohesive narrative. It felt like a handful of incomplete scripts were cut together and then had the Cloverfield brand stamped onto them in a way that felt unoriginal and incomplete.
There was a relevant subtext about energy conservation and global turmoil, but it was little more than background noise that served to move a shoddy, predictable and short-lived subplot about sabotage and betrayal. It only became important to the plot when someone needed motivation aboard the crippled station marooned in another universe. Personally, my only thoughts would have been about staying alive and making my way home but, you know, I’m an actual person. Altruistically saving the Earth and maybe rescuing my doppelganger’s family in the process is a nice bonus if I can make it happen but, first, I have to get back there.
As a standalone film with no connection to the other Cloverfield movies, it would have been watchable, if not slightly bland. As a part of this ever yo-yoing franchise, however, it’s exactly what I expected it to be: overhyped drek.
I know what all the Abrams and Cloverfield purists are going to say: “You just don’t understand what he’s doing with these stories.”
They’re absolutely right. As a writer and fan of the genres, I don’t have a freaking clue, because Abrams has made it his mission to keep everything about these stories a secret, even after they release. As a free-form anthology with some overarching theme, it just doesn’t work. The threads connecting the stories are so tenuously held together that even the slightest pressure snaps them, unraveling any narrative cohesion that existed.
Each film in this series had the potential to be a great movie. New York City is laid waste by a giant monster. A crazed prepper kidnaps a young woman. The crew of a space station ends up in a dark, alternate universe. But these last-minute plot devices that are never explored, explained or resolved aren’t clever and they aren’t good storytelling.
The Cloverfield Paradox is streaming as a Netflix original. Personally, I’m waiting for The Asylum or Troma to make a some “mockbusters” of the series that might actually be enjoyable.
There’s nothing paradoxical about this movie, unless you compare the perpetual, viral-marketed advertising success of the franchise against its actual reception. In the end, Abrams proves that audiences will eagerly consume any garbage you place in front of them, so long as the ad campaign is exciting and there is a big name attached to it.