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‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ Is A Challenge For Movie Scientists And Brand Association (Movie Review)

So it turns out Cloverfield is not just the name of a road in Santa Monica, CA, it’s a space station. That’s a spoiler for a premise, but The Cloverfield Paradox seems like a film so bent on throwing surprises at you that this one is not a major reveal to feel that concerned with. More concerning is how J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot Productions plan to use the Cloverfield label. While I’m fully ready to review this third entry, it is, frankly, impossible to evaluate the film without considering the unprecedented nature of its release. What we have is a sci-fi horror film that was suddenly dropped on audiences every, following the Super Bowl, and whether or not that’s a matter for those watching this film years from now, it does play a role in understanding what is making this film tick.

The story follows a crew of scientists working on a space station. Like any plausible near-future, this crew is made up of an international set of individuals with eyes on working together for the greater good of the world (in this case, it’s an energy crisis). The team includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the de-facto lead Hamilton, David Oyelowo as the level-headed Kiel, Daniel Bruhl as the suspicious Schmidt, John Ortiz as the religious Monk, Chris O’Dowd as the funny one, Askel Hennie as the one most likely to die first and Zhang Ziyi as Chewbacca (she’s assured, but speaks exclusively in another language that everyone understands). Their mission is to activate a particle accelerator in space, hoping to save the planet from certain doom. One of their attempts creates a form of chaos that spills the movie over into Twilight Zone territory.

To backtrack a bit, The Cloverfield Paradox follows 2008’s Cloverfield and 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. One was a kaiju movie from the perspective of a camcorder. The follow-up was a paranoia thriller set in a bunker. Now we have a space station disaster film that fits right in with movies like Event Horizon, Sunshine and 2010. The thing about these two follow-ups, neither film was meant to fall under the Cloverfield banner, and that’s becoming something of an issue.

By having Abrams serve as a producer who can swoop in and try to fix things, for better or worse, the seams are apparent. In the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film utilizing much of the same crew as the first film, there wasn’t much of a problem. For The Cloverfield Paradox, the idea of merging a movie (formerly titled The God Particle) into a franchise puts it at odds with what we should expect.

This is all important to understand, because the resulting film has clear issues. Following release date delays that could be looked at as a way to distance itself from 2017’s other space disaster films Life and Alien: Covenant, but could likely be more accurately associated with the screenplay, character and editing issues, The Cloverfield Paradox finally received a title, trailer and release all in the same day. Netflix was rumored to be purchasing this $40-ish million movie, and that was indeed validated all in a hurry. It’s a brilliant gambit for sure; releasing a film with one Super Bowl ad, hours after it premiered, but also speaks to what many could glean. The film just wasn’t working on all levels during production.

However, I wouldn’t say it isn’t worthwhile. As a standalone film, there is a lot to enjoy and admire, considering both the talent involved (though I understand many cast members are wasted) and the technical aspects (which I also figure would have a better impact on a big screen).  Perhaps this is still coming from my general spite for Netflix’s Bright, which I did see on a big screen, but I was happy enjoying a film about a group of smart people wanting to do something that would benefit the world. The added twists that come with it are par for the course, and while it’s a shame the film does not do a better job of justifying some of the oddities that come from what occurs early on, there is something to enjoy about the audacity of a film that presents a lot of crazy ideas and just lets it sit with the audience. I would wager to say writers Oren Uziel and Doug Jung have a clear idea of why things are happening; it’s just a fault of the film that an audience will never have a completely clear understanding.

This in mind, I don’t really care about a film explaining every aspect of its logic. I would even say I like some of the implications this film has as far as it being a part of the Cloverfield narrative (with some fun ideas dealing with the multi-dimensional concepts and how that can throw in plenty of interesting wrinkles that could be handled in a film already set on being a part of this universe, instead of after the fact). A chance was taken to make something out of a flawed picture that wasn’t getting the right amount of studio attention to fix it, so I’m just a bit more willing to accept the conceptual issues.

Because of this, it becomes a clear challenge to take on the choices and direction made by the characters and the story. This is especially evident in the film’s later sections, as the audience is being fed exposition regularly and the minimally-sketched out characters only have so much to define them. Without having Ridley Scott’s excuse concerning how little he cares about the humans and just wants to focus on androids played by Michael Fassbender, there is little to appreciate in these people beyond the personalities on display. A big screen experience would have made the spectacle more effective, I suppose, but given the unique presentation of this film (which feels more and more like a last ditch effort), one really benefits best by zeroing in on the highlights as opposed to the areas that just aren’t fresh in a film about a malfunctioning spacecraft.

Those highlights include a few performances. Mbatha-Raw, in particular, gets to standout. She plays the sort of lead character that is not officially the lead character until many others are out of the picture and the film decides to reveal a bit more backstory. However, she is an effective asset as far as providing the film with something emotional to connect with. O’Dowd also stands out, as he’s the funny one and it only makes sense for him to leave an impression. The most interesting character comes in the form of a stowaway of sorts played by Elizabeth Debicki, but the film never quite finds the best way to connect her beyond some bits of dialogue that direct the plot in specific ways.

Director Julius Onah deserves some mention, as this could not have been a smooth production, let alone one that wasn’t frustrating in some way. Whatever quibbles I have, there are some cleverly-staged moments, such as an opening montage or the perspectives we see at various instances in the film. He, cinematographer Dan Mindel and composer Bear McCreary all find ways to at least make the movie very watchable, which deserves credit for a film that was almost as doomed as Earth seemed to be at various points in this movie.

With another Cloverfield-branded film on the way set during WWII, I can only hope there is a better effort made by Bad Robot to ensure a movie that feels like more of a whole. As it stands, given my admiration for the first two Cloverfield films (I think the first is a modern classic as far as what it did for movies in various ways) and a choice to really try and look past what I assumed were production issues leading up to this surprise release, I enjoyed what was offered. It’s coming out of the Abrams playbook in many ways, and even as it takes more conventional routes to resolve its plot, there is an interesting sheen to the experience that I admired.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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