(This review is spoiler light, story elements are referred to without revealing much of the plot development.)
If the introduction of a Netflix produced Cloverfield sequel attained mass attention during it’s Big Game ad, then the revelation that the movie would arrive to Netflix-user’s screens right after the game brought shock. That the Bad Robot Production Company would trust their diminishing following, that Netflix would risk such a property to a nigh instantaneous marketing- release campaign, must have gained the attention of Media giants. How many viewers would follow the game with a horror film, how many watching parties would lend their eyeballs to this venture?
That has yet to be seen, Netflix has not released any numbers pertaining to last night’s viewing of the Cloverfield Paradox, and they don’t release any such data unless it makes them look good. But the question everyone’s been talking about is: but is the movie any good?
I’d say yes. My wife and I didn’t watch the Big Game, and I was starting to stay home sick. But after a day of coughing and hacking, we decided to add to Netflix’s numbers and give the movie a try. I had seen the first Cloverfield in theaters, I had let the second come and go, and my wife hadn’t seen any of it. But past viewings weren’t required at all, which is remarkable, considering how well this movie endeavored to but the previous two stories in context. The tie-ins weren’t the only satisfying thing about the story, and the actors were well chosen for the script. The Writing and the Acting together make this a movie to recommend.
The story of the original Cloverfield left some things to be desired. Footage at the end of the film suggests that the giant monster which the film is about splashed own in the Atlantic of the Coast of New York, or perhaps what we see hitting the water is a piece of a Satellite the descent of which mutated some earth organism into the monster and its parasites. At least, according to the studio published story details after the movie came out. This state of affairs left some connections to the second movie, but those ended up being tenuous at best.
This movie establishes that the world of the first movie was in an energy crisis, sought to be solved by the international team of scientists (our heroes) on the Cloverfield Science Station, an orbital installation housing a gyroscopic system called “The Shepherd Particle Accelerator”. The team attempts to use their dwindling resources to create a particle beam that can provide the earth with limitless energy. A world that, at that very moment, is gearing to go to war over their energy reserves. This conflict plays out in the crew’s suspicion of each other, which plays as background to the singular and animated characters that drive this thriller.
In it’s heart, The Cloverfield Paradox is a Disaster Action film mashed into a personal horror film. The pressure on the team from Earth’s predicament develops uniquely in each character, especially with the main character, Ava Hamilton (played expertly by Black Mirror’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Hamilton is encouraged by her husband to take on this responsibility after her prior misadventures in genius level engineering killed their only children in a leech-battery fire. However, in a truly poetic case of “you should have listened”, the public has responded to this project with the proposed “Cloverfield Paradox”, of which the scientists are listening to an uneducated explanation in a steaming video as they prepare a trial run of the Shepherd Accelerator, until the project head gruffly orders this naysaying theory turned off. The theory predicts that the particle beam could smash something so fundamental to the universe that our home universe becomes entwined with the parallel universes around it, causing spatial chaos and an invasion of that Universe’s inhabitants.
So, of course, that’s exactly what happens next.
The horror becomes personal as elements from our universe move around, other universe’s characters throw chaos into the mix, and hell breaks loose on earth. (The monster of the original movie features in a fast, but cool moment). There are two particularly emotional plots that have everything to do with parallel universes joining. I won’t say what they are, but they made the poor science and often surprising squick really worth it.
But what sells it more than anything is the acting. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi and more bring a real humanity to the plot’s horrifying and often ridiculous turns. Relationships between characters pull heavier than the gravitic orbits that storms around them, the emotional drives in each character carry far more impact than the fantastically accelerated particles. Because of this, the character deaths are more final than in some other films, each such scene removing a dramatic piece from the board, while often throwing new dramatic tensions between those who remain.
In the end, I suspect The Cloverfield Paradox will be panned by many critics. Part of this is because the cast is not just diverse, they are often obscure. While this choice pays off, many critics may finish the movie feeling let down by the lack of A-list talent. Another reason I suspect that the film will be criticized is because it relies very little on science, it already has it’s heart set on what needs to happen despite scientific fact, and heavy on engineering. Character spend a lot of time physically working, and the plot makes use of that time to deliver narrative punches, with no thought for realism. The movie is, simply put, driven by narrative causality, not logical reasons. Many critics will find the story ungrounded, though I argue it is internally consistent. Finally, the need the film fulfills in referencing the previous two films will be seen as unnecessary, which I suspect the creators care for not at all. The Cloverfield Franchise needed an anchoring plot, and lo, the Paradox delivered.
Some may argue that the impact of the film will ultimately be measured in Netflix’s revolutionary approach to advertising campaigns, but I urge you to push aside that focus and take the Cloverfield Paradox for what it is; a fitting endcap of an unusual horror trilogy acted earnestly and well, and not wholly enchanted with it’s own legacy, never taking itself too seriously. It’s a fun thriller, and I recommend it.