So, did everyone enjoy the Super Bowl this past weekend? I know I did, being a Philadelphia fan, but in truth I’m not much of a sports guy. What I really liked about the game was that, despite the lack of as many truly entertaining commercials this year as in years past, there were a ton of surprising and really intriguing movie trailers–none more so than the revelation that J.J. Abrams had dropped a brand-new movie right onto Netflix the night of the game: The Cloverfield Paradox. Having seen the previous two films in this “franchise” or “universe” or whatever it is you want to call it, I obviously felt like I needed to see this one, especially with the promise of it tying together the previous movies. The result was…well, let’s just say disappointing for starters.
So we know that the previous Cloverfield movies were both about varying forms of the end of the world–Cloverfield about a giant monster that invaded New York City Godzilla-style, and 10 Cloverfield Lane about a group of survivalists waiting out an alien invasion in a bomb shelter. I’ll just get it out of the way right now: in both cases, I really wanted to like the films, but in the end I was forced to acknowledge that they were pretty much just mediocre popcorn entertainment. The main reason for this is because while I love me a good monster movie or bottle situation, neither of these movies added anything new to their respective genres. If you’re going to redo something that’s on as well-trodden ground as giant monsters tearing up cities or a group of people smashed together in claustrophobic fear of the unknown, the least you could do is bring something fresh to the equation.
I mean, let’s be honest here: in 10 Cloverfield Lane, did you ever really think there was nothing outside the bunker and that John Goodman was just being a lunatic for no reason? Of course not. It would have completely invalidated the point of the film and betrayed the weirdness that the Cloverfield series is all about. So by the end, I was like, “Ooh look, aliens invaded. Eh, saw that coming.” There was nothing to differentiate it from the gazillion other stories about people stuck together in bad situations and ending up at each other’s throats. I think even the aliens “twist” at the end probably wasn’t new. It was very Signs, really. Been there, done that. Same with Cloverfield: while the elusive nature of the monster was meant to build up the suspense of the movie, we all knew there was a monster and that it was only a matter of time before it came out of hiding. So when it did, not much of a surprise. Granted, the film was made slightly more interesting by focusing more on the fallout from the monster than the actual havoc it was wreaking by itself, but still, it’s been done before. Plus, the shaky camera really bugged me.
How are these two films even spiritually connected, you may ask? Well, The Cloverfield Paradox took a fumbling grab at doing so by introducing yet another disaster scenario. Unlike the previous two films, which arguably take place in the present day, Paradox happens in a future where the world is in the midst of an energy crisis that’s putting nations at each other’s throats and causing chaos among ordinary people. A team of scientists is assembled and sent into space aboard the Cloverfield station (!!!) to try to figure out the Shepard Particle Accelerator, which if run correctly could provide a limitless energy source. After two years of work, their first successful test firing causes a catastrophic malfunction that leaves the station and its crew adrift in space, with the Earth gone and vital systems failing. When bizarre and horrifying things start happening, they eventually are forced to conclude that the accelerator breakdown has catapulted them into a parallel universe.
Sounds pretty cool, right? And on the face of it, the basic idea behind The Cloverfield Paradox really is a good one. Sure, the idea of parallel universes has been done a lot before (Star Trek’s Mirror Universe being the most obvious pop-culture example), but there’s a lot of interesting ground to navigate and new things to explore in my opinion, especially in the horror vein of things. Two objects, or even people, trying to occupy the same space at once can lead to some pretty gruesome consequences, like the station’s crop of worms shifting inside one man’s body and a new crew member from an alternate universe found with her body fused inside the station’s wiring. The whole story (near as I can tell, anyway) hinges on a clip from the very beginning of the movie, where naysayers about the Shepard project warn that the accelerator is dangerous because it could tear holes in reality and let “monsters” through to our world. By the way, the cameo by Donal Logue may be the best two minutes of the entire movie. What? I like the guy. Fight me.
And of course there’s the obligatory struggle to get home to the crew’s true reality, which is fraught by all kinds of complications: crew members getting blamed for things the alternate versions of themselves did and creating suspicion among former friends, continuing warps in reality that, among other things, drive people insane, cause malfunctions, and sever a guy’s arm clean off (while it continues to function on its own, mind you), and of course the main character, Hamilton, realizing that in this alternate reality, her children are alive while they died in her reality. The family touch is a pretty compelling one that’s been done before, but never fails to be a strong one. In that situation, who wouldn’t try to bail on their reality for a better one just like Hamilton did?
In that sense, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character was by far and away the best one in the movie because she was the sole emotional grounding point that really stuck with us and made me feel something genuine. Pretty much all the other characters, including Hamilton’s husband down on Earth, were just plot devices, there to be used for mistakes or horrible deaths. We spent pretty much no time exploring their characters or getting to know any of them even in the slightest, which took away a lot of the gravity of the situation and the impact of the “bottle” story format. Shouldn’t Mundy have been a lot more freaked out about losing his arm than he was? It was like a joke rather than a horror thing, which was bizarre to me. Even 10 Cloverfield Lane, flawed as it was, did a better job of this. Speaking of which, what exactly was the point of those scenes back on Earth, anyway? Look, I get that Hamilton’s husband saving the little girl was intended to be a parallel to the loss of their own children and provide some emotional closure for him. But if that’s true, maybe you should SAY SOMETHING ABOUT IT? Even exchange more than, like, two lines of dialogue? Otherwise it just feels pointless and wasted, and takes away from the dramatic tension of the primary storyline.
That was actually the overarching problem with the whole movie in general: characters making assumptions based on no evidence whatsoever and weird, random things happening with no explanation at all. As far as I can tell, the only reasoning we got as to why all those crazy things kept happening was “Oh yeah, well, we turned on a particle smasher thingy. Weird stuff was bound to happen.” Well okay then, that’s fine. Actually EXPLAIN it. Come on, people. It’s not that hard. Even a half-baked, science technobabble B.S. answer would do. But no. Instead we get nothing. Not a single thing that happened in the movie stemmed from any logical progression of events or made a lick of sense whatsoever. For example, how could Mundy’s disembodied arm have known about the gyro trapped inside Volkov’s body? And why was it in his body to begin with? No explanation, or speculation. Not even a tentative one.
Plus, the part where “Mirror Universe” crew member Mina Jensen turns on the prime crew was completely out of the blue and unnecessary. Didn’t they just say, like, five minutes earlier that they were going to give her reality all they needed to build a working accelerator too? Two universes saved, done and done. And then Jensen goes around murdering everyone in sight because she wants to keep the accelerator in her universe. Uh, what? That problem was already resolved. So why are you doing what you’re doing? Again, a single line of dialogue like “I don’t really know any of you and I can’t take the chance you’re lying to me” would have done it, but it’s just not there. Oh, and where did the gun she had come from? Right–Volkov randomly made it after hearing what looked like voices in his head (again, no explanation) just to die and have the gun be simply used as a plot device by Jensen later. Lazy, bad writing all around. Everyone seems so busy rushing around dealing with the next crisis that they don’t have time to think about anything that’s going on. For characters that are hypothetically real, that’s fine. As moviegoers, we expect and deserve more than that.
And how about that ending, huh? I mean, I was as thrilled to see the Cloverfield monster reappear as anyone, but where in the heck did that come from? Once again, no explanation, no nothing. Not even a hint from that anti-accelerator wacko of “Look, I was right!” or any hint beforehand that reality had changed and giant monsters had been unleashed onto our Earth. It was so incredibly out of left field that it didn’t feel earned, satisfying, or even shocking in any way. How did Mr. Hamilton know about the monsters if we never saw him know anything or even learn about them beforehand? Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. There’s no excuse for plot holes like this.
As such, The Cloverfield Paradox really doesn’t follow through on its promise to tie together the Cloverfield movies. What little there is to go on is pure supposition by me at this point. The tagline printed on the film’s promotional poster says “The future unleashed every thing”, a statement that I’m taking to mean this: in the future, the Shepard accelerator accident really does rip open holes in reality, not just to ours but in multiple worlds, and makes crazy things happen across the multiverse not just in space, but in time. This explains where the Cloverfield monster came from both in Cloverfield and Paradox (which could theoretically take place on the same Earth, if Cloverfield is set in the past) and 10 Cloverfield Lane, which appears to happen around the same time as Cloverfield, but with not connection and no hint of the monster, just alien attacks.
Confusing? Definitely. Cool to think about? Absolutely. Confirmed in any way by the script of this movie? Nope. If that’s what Abrams and company were aiming for with The Cloverfield Paradox (and to be clear, I don’t think anyone watching this would have any idea what the filmmakers were hoping to accomplish), they failed miserably.
My Rating: 3/10
I really tried to make some kind of “paradox” pun in my analysis. I really did. But in all honesty, there’s no paradox about The Cloverfield Paradox: it’s just bad. What potential there was for the film with its interesting premise and promise to tie together two other disparate movies in an awesome, high-concept sci-fi kind of way, was completely squandered with wooden acting, tenuous logic at best, and nonsensical writing that indulged all of J.J. Abrams’ worst instincts: pose a billion questions and never answer any of them. Is anyone else getting Lost flashbacks? The film looks and feels like it was slapped together in a hurry, with very little thought to its working parts, just to get it on the air for Super Bowl Sunday. That’s no way to make a movie, folks. Despite this, Paradox isn’t an avoid-at-all-costs kind of bad: rather, it’s just a disappointing and disheartening master class in what makes a story not work. Clover deserved better!
Check out Kyle Robertson’s new novel, Camp Ferguson, available online now at Amazon.com and via Kindle devices!