The Best Things About The Cloverfield Paradox are the Non-Cloverfield Parts
I love the disaster genre, and while I think found footage films are mostly played out, there are some real gems that introduced the concept. That being said, the original Cloverfield is one of my favorite disaster and found footage films out there. I saw it in theaters multiple times, and I kept trying to get more friends to see it. I dove in on the brilliant marketing, and absorbed every bit of in-universe media for it at the time. I was ecstatic about the people involved with 10 Cloverfield Lane, but I wasn’t able to catch it in theaters. I finally got to it when it was streaming, and I absolutely adored the film. I loved the tension, the unclear moral and ethical quandaries, and most of all, the ending.
You could say the Cloverfield series is known for smaller stories set within a bigger, scarier world. The marketing is always top notch, and that was the case here. Announcing the film with a trailer during the Super Bowl and having the film available immediately afterward is sheer brilliance. I only wish the film we received could live up to the marketing genius who came up with that plan.
Honestly, The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t terrible, but it never rise into its own film — and part of that is because of its own connections.
The Real Cloverfield Paradox: Hiring A Great Cast for a Bad Movie
The Cloverfield Paradox has plenty going for it. There is great acting talent throughout this film — Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a welcome lead to any picture, in my opinion. The rest of the roster includes Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris O’Dowd, David Oyelowo, and Zhang Ziyi. While Oyelowo and Zhang never get to show their full chops here, Debicki, Brühl, and O’Dowd get solid character arcs that show their talents. The best play from the filmmakers here is this cast, I would say.
And I was in on the premise — it’s a great idea full of mystery. I can see how the selling process works here, because you pitch it to anyone and I’m sure you get the entire room’s ear: Astronauts fire an experimental particle accelerator and the Earth vanishes. This series relies on worldbuilding, and The Cloverfield Paradox gets this right, setting the stage and the stakes in the first act.
Where Paradox Fails
I’m always here for original films — especially with horror and science fiction. It’s funny, considering this original when it is now tied to a franchise. Herein lies the problem. I honestly think I would have liked Paradox more had it been disconnected from the franchise, even though I love the idea of the Cloverfield franchise.
Both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane are two stressful films that I adore. The original Cloverfield played off of disaster tropes and found footage horrors while presenting something new, and 10 Cloverfield Lane gave a slow burn thriller that made you question everything as the plot unfolded. The Cloverfield Paradox, however, can’t be easily summarized in the same way. The plot begins with that great premise, but then it fractures to a point beyond comprehension later.
It feels overly complex, smashing together so many plots and intertextuality between the films as if it was the paradox itself. I admit, the first few references worked for me — Donal Logue’s character’s rant was a great intrigue setting moment that piqued my interest. I absolutely LOVE multiverses and think not enough genre films play with the storytelling convention.
When Elizabeth Debicki showed up, I leaned in on the film. I was ready to love it, and this is why I love alternate universes — you can show characters that nobody knows, but they know everyone else. You can play with expectations. The shot of her stuck in the wiring was horrifying, too. The film had me at this point.
But a lot of the goodwill it builds up gets squandered and muddled. I enjoyed the B-story set on Earth, but it squashes the tension described by the film’s premise — the Earth has vanished. No, we realize, the ship has vanished. It’s the same plot convention that is used in other space properties — like Robotech/Macross, Lost in Space, and Battlestar Galactica (2004). Fire up your experimental technology (a faster-than-light/space-folding drive or a particle accelerator) and get unexpected results. You get thrown across the system, galaxy, or universe. While I’ve seen it before, I live for that kind of science fiction drama. It’s a great plot device.
So showing what is happening on Earth clues us into the truth way too early — the station left where it was. Earth is still there. They start with good mystery here, shit is going down. It has the momentary panicky feeling that both predecessors show when their big bad is nearby. Yet it only takes a few Earth sequences to see that they’re retreading the same ground. The shadow of a monster and an emergency shelter let you know that this is a mashup of both films.
Too Much Cloverfield, Not Enough Cloverfield
And that is what bothered me — it felt rather shoehorned in, and both predecessors had a unique standalone premise that could be very remotely tied together. The Cloverfield Paradox had me hoping they would show that both films take place in a separate universe, while this ship is the cause of all the mayhem across time and space.
I think it could have done that had it only hinted at similar events, and then ended the film by revealing a totally different fate on Earth. Because where it is now is a classic hopeless horror ending that tells me I just watched this space crew die for nothing — I just watched this woman fight for her life, give up a chance to see her kids again, and return to her real world, for it only to be shit. I wouldn’t mind that if it felt earned, but showing a fully grown Clover monster just doesn’t get me where I want to be. Even having her return to Earth and finding that the same war has broken out here would be a better classic depressing sci-fi ending for me.
It’s not a terrible film, but it doesn’t live up to its predecessors. Perhaps The Cloverfield Paradox does take place in its own universe separate but similar to the previous two films, but they never say it. There isn’t enough implication to draw that conclusion from. I know there are talks of more in this series, and I hope they stick more to the idea that each story is its own universe.