The Cloverfield Paradox premiered on Netflix almost immediately following its first trailer which aired during the Super Bowl. While the move was certainly unexpected, it makes sense that such an extreme shift in marketing and film distribution would be attempted by a franchise which all but founded counter-marketing strategies such as alternate reality games and MySpace profiles to promote 2008’s Cloverfield. Overall, when looking beyond the circumstances of The Cloverfield Paradox’s abrupt release, the movie offers up many new questions about the Clover-verse, and it ultimately lived up to my modest expectations for the film.
Since 2016, Bad Robot Productions’ God Particle caused a lot of stir on the internet. When it was announced that the science-fiction movie would eventually become a part of the Clover-verse, fans became both excited by the premise and concerned by the multiple delays of the release date for the film from 2017 and into 2018. When a movie has that kind of baggage, and then it explodes onto the scene completely unannounced, it can be easy for viewers to focus on qualities outside of the film itself. I went in watching with a fresh mindset, focusing exclusively on the qualities of the film, and I was not personally disappointed with the movie’s concept, its characters, and its overall connection to the Cloverfield franchise.
The Cloverfield Paradox is set the near future, where a group of international astronauts on a space station are working to solve a massive energy crisis on Earth. The experimental technology aboard the station has an unexpected result where the Earth suddenly vanishes without a trace, leaving the team isolated and fighting for their survival. Similar to TV series like Fringe and Lost, alternate dimensions and time travel have a heavy role in how Cloverfield Paradox pans out. The title of the film plays on how two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time without one cancelling the other out, in this case with the chaos of merging of several realities that have aliens, deep-sea monsters and demons in the past, the present and the future. The unique concept of Paradox is first introduced when it is revealed that Elizabeth Debicki’s Jensen somehow became trapped behind a wall inside the ship; but after she is revived nobody recognizes despite her insistence that she is a member of the crew and knows the other characters intimately. The filmmakers continue to play with this concept in clever and unique ways throughout the movie, and there’s a particularly interesting scene where Chris O’Dowd’s Mundy communicates with his rascally disembodied arm!
Given the new setting and creative concept for the film, there is an element of ethical dilemmas in which the characters are faced with choices that not only dictate the fate of the crew, but that of 8 billion people still on Earth. We learn the crew comes from different countries and all play unique roles on the ship, from engineers to physicists… and nobody is getting out of this alive unless they can work together. I was immediately captivated by how many real-life issues about energy conservation there are, and what kinds of means people would go to in order to replenish energy on Earth. The film is on the thematic and storytelling wavelength of Interstellar, and it definitely captures the claustrophobic feeling of being in a spaceship thousands of miles, and even dimensions, away from home but embracing the human spirit to set things right and make it back to the ones they love.
Leading the cast is Gugu Mbatha-Raw (2017‘s Beauty and the Beast) as Ava Hamilton, who commands the crew of scientists on the Cloverfield Station while her husband Michael (Roger Davies) is back on Earth. Both are grief stricken from the loss of their two children in a tragic house fire. Ava was interesting because at first we see what she and her husband are dealing with on Earth; a shortage of fossil fuel and electricity. There are flashbacks to their children, and when we see her in space, the audience is lead to believe she opted to travel for an extended period of time without seeing her family. She knows something is wrong when after the experiment was working but then caused a severe malfunction in the ship that she could not communicate with her husband, and seemed like all hope was lost. When the audience later learned from the character Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki) that Ava was not on the ship where she came from because she was still on Earth, with her husband and their two children who were both alive there. There is a scene when Ava is presented with the hardest choice of her life, which would be to stay in the dimension where her family is alive, or go back to her own to be with her husband. In the end, she does what she believes is right by sending the other version of herself a message of how to make the particle accelerator work, and returning to her own world.
In addition to Mbatha-Raw, Davies, O’Dowd, and Debicki, other main cast members include David Oyelowo as Kiel, Daniel Brühl as Schmidt, John Ortiz as Monk Acosta, Aksel Hennie as Volkov, and Zhang Ziyi as Tam. Each character was diverse in the way they reacted to the situation. When the crew was ordered to get the station back to full operation, Schmidt who also spoke Chinese, seemed to have been conspiring with Tam to take over the ship, but this was not the case. Volkov, who dealt with issues of possibly another version of himself on the inside was able to create a 3D printed plastic handgun and ammunition which was confiscated from him but later used by Jensen when she had to choose between the lives of the crew who wasn’t from her dimension and the lives of everyone on her planet Earth. There was a small role where Donal Logue portrayed a character named Mark Stambler, on a video screen who spoke of the titular paradox. His character is relative of Howard Stambler from 10 Cloverfield Lane, portrayed by John Goodman.
Although I liked the film’s concept, characters and acting, The Cloverfield Complex has messy narrative, writing and editing. Some specific issues were there were a lot of jumping ahead scenes from the editing standpoint, right from Earth to when they were in space, not as much build up to give some more background on the characters and how they came together at first. Dialogue for some seemed a bit too unrealistic like when Mundy’s arm gets disembodied, his reaction was he seemed less terrified and was written more as comic relief. There were a lot of genres that the writers tried to get all in, like being sci-fi and horror, but that’s where the film seems to stumble. I think having too many story lines going can create too much complexity, and take away from the overall development. There is great connective tissue to the other films, but if it had been focused more on how it can take the franchise in a more specific direction rather than be self-contained, I think it may have been responded to better.
Despite some problems with The Cloverfield Complex’s narrative, writing, and editing, the movie comes to a satisfying conclusion and opens up the future of the franchise in an interesting way. Through many struggles, deceptions and losses, the remaining crew members are able to make it home but have no idea what is in store for when they make it there. Given the multiple dimensions of Paradox, and the direct manner in which it ties the movies together, there are so many exciting directions where the series can go. Given the conclusion of Paradox– and given the fact that we already know that the next installment will come in the form of a supernatural horror film set during World War II this October- it may take many more films to reveal the big picture. Despite its flaws, the movie makes me excited for whatever new storytelling concepts and ideas the Cloverfield franchise decides to explore! Check back for more on the shared Cloverfield universe coming soon!