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Surprise! Viewers of the Super Bowl were not expecting to learn that a new Cloverfield movie was on its way. But that’s exactly what happened when, with only a trailer played during the football game,dropped THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX Sunday night.
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is the third film in the loosely connected series produced by J.J. Abrams. The first, titled simply Cloverfield, was a found-footage monster movie that put the audience in the perspective of someone running from a Godzilla-like creature. 10 Cloverfield Lane was mostly a bottle suspense thriller set in an underground bunker after a post-apocalyptic event. The third film is set on a space station in the future, and their experiments to find an unlimited energy supply for mankind rip a whole in space-time that unleashes monsters and other strange things across multiple dimensions. So this movie is both a sequel and prequel to the others which are, presumably, set on different Earths.
Connecting them in this way is pretty smart for a franchise that doesn’t want to tell a linear story. We now have the origin of sorts for the very different monsters we see in all three films, an explanation as to why these things are happening, and endless possibilities for future installments. As a connecting thread, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX works very well. It’s even better that it comes so late in the series, letting the mystery linger for years before solving it.
However, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is, by far, the weakest of the three installments.
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX suffers from being split into too many pieces that fail to form a cohesive narrative. Our international crew of astronauts, comprised of Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle), Kiel (David Oyelowo, Selma), Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl, Captain America: Civil War), Monk (John Ortiz, Kong: Skull Island), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids), Volkov (Aksel Hennie, The Martian), Tam (Ziyi Chang, Memoirs of a Geisha), and Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby) start off in a somewhat straight-forward, save-the-Earth mission. This morphs into a cross between Alien and Apollo 13 as technology goes wrong and things (oddities, not monsters) haunt the ship. Eventually, as the cast is picked of one-by-one, it feels very familiar.
This in of itself should have been the movie, and it would have been OK if it had a few different elements to keep us guessing where it was going. While parts of it feel like remakes of other films, there’s enough originality to forge its own path, and an interesting story boosted by some terrific performances and spectacular special effects. But there are also very weird things, like an intelligent hand and arm, that just aren’t satisfyingly explained and make the whole thing uneven. There are also characters who act out of character or make ridiculous decisions no one in their right mind would make, sending the plot off course. Inconsistencies plague this work.
Add to this, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX forces the DNA of the previous two movies into this one by following Hamilton’s husband, Michael (Roger Davies, Family Affairs), back on Earth. Michael first finds himself in a city being actively destroyed by very big creatures, a la the original, and then takes shelter in a creepy bunker, as in the sequel. These comparisons feel forced and unnecessary, distracting and off-tone. It also spoils what could have been a twist ending otherwise.
There’s also a bit of exposition when an apparent conspiracy theory nut (Donal Logue, Gotham) warns a reporter (Suzanne Cryer, Silicon Valley) about what might happen with the space station. He ends up being right, but I couldn’t help but feel this was a bit more hand-holding that viewers needed. Unless Donal is a set up for another film, in which case, I like him enough to overlook this.
I think if the writers wanted to keep all the pieces they force in, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX would have worked better as a television miniseries or season. That way, it could take its time exploring each of the facets of the tale in a longer narrative arc. Hamilton could even visit herself on the other Earth, and really dig into what the multiple dimensions presented mean. It also would make more sense to keep Michael in it for a potential second season. In this way, nothing would need to be cut out, and it would almost guarantee more forthcoming story (J.J.’s name and a big budget making a two-season order on a streaming service likely). If they wanted to keep this as a movie, they really should have narrowed in on a few choices and ditched much of the material they went with.
I will say, I did enjoy the other J.J. references present. Keep your eyes peeled, and you’ll see homages to 2009’s Star Trek and the television show Alias, as well as hear some regular Abrams cast voices, such as Simon Pegg and Greg Grunberg.
Overall, I didn’t hate THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX. Like I said, there are some really good elements, and in terms of defining the franchise, it does its intended job. However, there are enough plot holes and weaknesses to keep it from being a thoroughly enjoyable watch, and certainly makes it the low point of the series so far. The potential is strong enough that I want to see it developed further. But care must be taken to make sure the next installment doesn’t go off the rails like this one did, which would surely kill any future stories any time soon.
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is available now on Netlfix.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.