The Cloverfield Paradox surprised everyone with its release… after viewing it my feelings are somewhat torn.
British scientist Eva Hamilton commits to joining an experimental space program to test an advanced particle collider in hope that it might solve Earth’s debilitating energy crisis. But operating the machine, even in Earth’s orbit, has bizarre and far-reaching consequences.
JJ Abrams “mystery box” methodology began with his film Cloverfield back in 2008, a handheld, found-footage monster disaster flick. In 2016 he helped produce 10 Cloverfield Lane, carrying the Cloverfield franchise mostly in name only, the second film was a claustrophobic thriller that leaves the audience in the dark as to what to believe. Personally, 10 Cloverfield Lane was incredible, it knocked its “predecessor” out for the count and brought the Cloverfield franchise into the dimensions of an anthology series rather than straight, conventional sequels or prequels. Something Hollywood desperately needs to ease off from.
Now we have The Cloverfield Paradox, after being hinted at for months and presumed to be released as a movie called The God Particle, it released suddenly on Netflix and not a cinema release (10 Cloverfield Lane was no slouch, it earned as much as its bigger blockbustier originator), announced going live immediately after the 2018 Superbowl. Kinda weird. And honestly, it does a disservice to the franchise.
Set in the semi-distant future (perhaps within the next forty years?) and following two perspectives, the film explores the theory of particle accelerators and the risks they have in breaking the very fabric of reality. One perspective is Eva Hamilton, a scientist sent up to work on the device upon a space station, and her husband left behind on Earth. The majority of the film is on the station and plays out much like a claustrophobic sci-fi thriller (you could say horror, but it doesn’t go quite far enough to warrant it).
Parts of the film I really enjoyed. The second act mostly. Where our trapped group of international think tanks are subjected to weird and horrible events caused by the warping of reality. The film has some really cool ideas that, despite there now being dozens of claustrophobic space horrors, we’ve never seen before. The stakes raise as people start dying, and another mysterious person suddenly appears who claims to have been part of the crew all along.
As a fan of science fiction, there’s a lot to like here. Production value is decent, reminds me of 2017’s Life. Performances are enough to get by, although Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Eva gets all of the emotional weight, no one else particularly gets a look in.
But the issues with The Cloverfield Paradox are a little more nuanced and play directly into the meta-narrative of the franchise.
While watching 10 Cloverfield Lane, audiences didn’t know what was happening. That was its genius. Was this a sequel to the outrageous sci-fi disaster film? Was it something totally different? Playing wonderfully with John Goodman’s performance, audiences were left riveted.
But… whether intentional or not (perhaps pandering to “the Internet” and the “confusion” as to what an anthology was) Paradox robs almost all of the mystery for future entries to the franchise. While it does tie nicely into the 2008 film with lots of theories to discuss around the water cooler, all future Cloverfield films are going to be seen through the lens of: “Oh, so something weird is happening,” and “So this happened because of that thing”. All sense of ambiguity and mystery the series could have had going forward has been erased in one blow.
If you like science fiction regardless of this, check it out. It has good escalation of stakes and not too many cases of “stupid character” syndrome (Alien: Covenant and Life, this is not) and has some cool concepts that you won’t have seen before, implemented very well.
If you liked the mystery and cleverness of the Cloverfield projects… actually skip this one, it might be the best decision for you. This might have irreparably damaged the franchise.