The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Directed by Julius Onah

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The Cloverfield Paradox is a blend of Alien and Rick and Morty.  It’s the third movie in the Cloverfield franchise, though like 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane it’s only loosely connected to the broader story.  The most noteworthy thing about this movie is how it was released, only hours after the first trailer dropped on Super Bowl Sunday.

The surprise release was a good idea.  It generates sudden internet buzz, and it seems to be the latest marketing move from an innovative company (Netflix).  Or maybe they just did this because the movie isn’t great, and they wanted to get ahead of the negative critical reviews.  This isn’t just my opinion, in fact it didn’t really occur to me until about an hour into the movie, but based on the lackluster-ness of the story, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case.

Look, Paradox is fine, alright?  It’s entertaining and a little fun, but it becomes just another action movie with characters you don’t really care about.  And the Cloverfield tie in?  It’s barely there.  This is a stand alone story that isn’t going to add anything to this world other than I suppose the implication of where the Cloverfield monster came from, but I think this possible origin story is bloated and unnecessary.

The movie was originally titled The God Particle before it was roped into the Cloverfield cinematic universe.  It’s a science fiction film with shades of Ridley Scott’s Alien and even Solaris.  It’s a horror film with apparent monsters which turns into a sort of space madness which turns into a dimension-blending journey which turns into just another good guy versus bad guy film, but in this case it’s good girl versus bad girl, which is really cool.

I should discuss that.  This movie has a pretty diverse cast, and the protagonist is a woman of color.  Her counterpart is another woman, basically Game of Throne‘s Brienne of Tarth.  So that’s really cool, alright back to the story.

If you told me the first 15 minutes of this movie was a shot for shot remake of Alien I might believe you.  You have the friendly crew, sharing playful jabs, the space station, the mission, the peculiar space food, all the way until things go wrong and one of them becomes ill.  Instead of his stomach giving birth to an alien, this man shoots worms out of his mouth.  Gross.

I really can’t remember exactly what happens next.  A woman shows up, strangely skewered by cables and metal poles behind one of the ship’s panels.  The comic relief character loses his arm but doesn’t feel any pain.  The guy with worms in his mouth has a metal orb in his stomach.  The other guy’s cleanly severed arm writes down a clue for them.  The skewered woman turns out to be a crew member of that very ship but from a different dimension.  We learn that the protagonist has a couple of dead children (dead kids is a very popular backstory in movies like these, such as in Gravity), they find a different Earth and debate going to that one, the German character gives us all the exposition, kind of out of nowhere, there’s a fight, a few of them die, the two of them still alive get back to Earth, and then we see the Cloverfield monster roar out of the clouds as the pod falls from the sky.  Huh.

Okay, so it’s all fine, but this movie doesn’t have the relentless, haunting momentum that it should have, that Alien had.  I keep bringing up that 1979 film because it’s impossible not too.  In that film everything leads to the next.  When the guy’s stomach bursts, an alien scurries out and hides in the ship.  Their mission becomes to kill that alien, and along the way they discover this to not be as simple as they might have hoped.  It’s a lean, tense movie made claustrophobic by the ever shrinking crew, the limited movement offered by the small space station and the fact that we never leave that space station.

The Cloverfield Paradox goes for something similar here, but the movie has a tough time balancing this kind of horror with a need to explain the greater implications of what they have discovered.  They are at once terrorized by this thing going on in their small shop while also concerned with a world as large in scope as the Earth, and even multiple earths.  I can never remember when to capitalize earth.

We also cut back and forth between the space ship and the protagonist Eva’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) husband back on Earth.  Okay I’m capitalizing it from now on.  And the husband’s story is very boring.  He’s a doctor, he watches the monster attack but never sees the monster.  He finds a kid and takes that kid to a bunker.  That’s it.  It has nothing to do with the rest of the story except for when he finds out his wife is heading back for Earth and he screams for her to be sent back into space.  But we already know the danger.  The husband’s frantic yelling doesn’t make us realize the danger.  If anything we’re way more familiar with it than he is.  Cut out the husband, stick with the space station.

Also, something like Alien was very direct and to the point.  They have an alien onboard, and they need to get rid of it.  We’re right there with you.  In The Cloverfield Paradox, any and all momentum cuts out when the German scientist (Daniel Bruhl) steps in to deliver one of many expository monologues that amount to “Earth is gone” or “there are multiple dimensions” and “we’re in a different one” or “I’m the guy from Inglourious Basterds” and “this information about what else I’m in is meant to make you think my character is more sinister than I am because I’m a good guy.”

The Cloverfield Paradox at once copies old formulas known to work while also deviating from those formulas to explain why this movie isn’t like those other movies.  The effect is just a less thrilling version of those other movies with the Cloverfield name slapped on top.

Up Next: Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Faces Places (2017), Dark City (1998)

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