It may be free, but that doesn’t make the “Cloverfield Paradox” worth your time

March 16, 2018

After half a decade dominating the television sphere, the streaming giant is clearly looking to make the jump onto the big screen—ironic, considering watching something on Netflix is the antithesis of actually going to a movie theater. Netflix already has an Oscar-nominated film in its collection with “Mudbound,” some terrible Adam Sandler movies and now it even has its own blockbuster with “Bright” (the only problem being that “Bright” was awful).

“The Cloverfield Paradox” was a different beast altogether. The third film in a startlingly successful sci-fi franchise, “Paradox” received a surprise release on Netflix on the night of the Super Bowl. It was a genius marketing gimmick: instead of getting viewers hyped for a movie months away, the film was instantly accessible at no extra cost to the consumer (provided they already had an account with Netflix). No one had even heard of “The Cloverfield Paradox” until the day Netflix released it—and that’s awesome.

I remember the Super Bowl commercial actually blowing my mind, mostly due to the pedigree of the Cloverfield franchise. The first film, titled “Cloverfield,” premiered in 2008 and offered a unique take on the monster-movie genre. Produced by mystery-master J.J. Abrams and packed to the brim with “Lost” Easter eggs, “Cloverfield” was like seeing Godzilla from the point-of-view of the civilians on the ground–the whole movie is from the perspective of regular people, seeing kaiju attack through the lens of a handheld camcorder. It’s not amazing, but ten years later, the film still holds up thanks to an airtight script from then-newcomer Drew Goddard (who would go on to write “Cabin in the Woods” and “The Martian”) and solid directing debut from Matt Reeves (who went on to helm the excellent recent “Planet of the Apes” sequels and is set to direct Ben Affleck’s Batman movie–if it ever gets off the ground).

The series laid dormant until 2016, with the surprise release of a trailer for “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Totally disconnected from the original, “10 Cloverfield Lane” was a claustrophobic, intense thriller with just a little bit of sci-fi sprinkled in–Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a bunker and is informed by the possibly-insane Howard (John Goodman, who is amazing in this movie) that the world has ended, and she must remain in the bunker forever (for her own protection). Again written and directed by brand-new talent, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the highpoint of the series and the least reliant on any marketing gimmicks for its success. It was just a really good movie. In the wake of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the future of the franchise looked clear and bright: “Cloverfield” would be an anthology series of standalone, grounded sci-fi stories and a springboard for new talent, produced and quality-controlled by J.J. Abrams.

This context is essential for understanding why “The Cloverfield Paradox” is such a disappointment. Originally in production under the title “The God Particle,” “Cloverfield Paradox” is a Cloverfield movie in name alone–it’s blatantly clear that this wasn’t meant to be a part of the Cloverfield anthology and was shoehorned into the series in post-production. Yet, the components that concocted success in the past are all here–new, hungry filmmakers, a talented cast (that includes “Selma” star David Oyelowo and the hilarious Chris O’Dowd), and producer J.J. Abrams on board to lend a hand.

The problem is, nothing in “Paradox” makes sense. Set in the near-future, earth is in the midst of an energy crisis, and the world looks to a team of astronauts aboard a space station to supply clean energy using a particle accelerator. As soon as they successfully turn on the accelerator, however, the earth appears to vanish. Right off the bat, there are a lot of problems–we never really get a sense of the situation on the ground (on earth). How bad is the energy crisis? What does this world look like? Instead, we spend the majority of the movie aboard the space station, which would be fine except that the movie keeps cutting back to earth and fails to answer these questions. As the movie goes on, more questions arise, but it never feels like the creators have a consistent set of answers or rules governing the proceedings (similar to Abram’s “Lost”).

The bigger problem is the scope of the story: the prior (and better) Cloverfield movies always kept their scale small and hinged around the fate of a few relatable characters. “Paradox,” on the other hand, is huge–we’re constantly confronted with a world ending catastrophe. Between the expository energy crisis and the whole earth disappearing, “Paradox” is easily the biggest “Cloverfield” movie, but the movie isn’t a gigantic blockbuster and the filmmakers can’t accommodate the scale of its story. “Paradox” is the most expensive of the series, with a budget of a whopping 45 million dollars–for context, “10 Cloverfield Lane” cost a third of that. While some of the CGI looks impressive, it’s clear that the lower budgets forced earlier Cloverfield directors to make compromises that actually helped their movies, while “Paradox” is full of misplaced spectacle.

While it was cool to watch the next installment of a series I like on Netflix instantly, a month after the release gimmick “The Cloverfield Paradox” is just another bad movie on Netflix. The real problem, though, is that the franchise has lost nearly all the good will it’s built up over two movies. Rumors are swirling that a fourth Cloverfield will be released in October–hopefully the franchise can find some redemption and get back on track. I like the idea of this sci-fi anthology series as a hunting ground for new filmmakers, but there needs to be a bit more quality control if we’re going to keep watching.

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