The Cloverfield Paradox Review

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“Some thing has found us” read the tagline for 2008’s Cloverfield. That film had arguably one of the most interesting marketing campaigns in the history of movies. The untitled trailer that played during Transformers, the mystery surrounding the story, and the Easter eggs on the web provided much anticipation for its opening day release. It did not disappoint. Cloverfield remains one of the most intense films of the modern era, delivering a grounded monster movie. In 2016, a film titled 10 Cloverfield Lane was released. Producer J.J. Abrams called the film a “blood relative” to the first Cloverfield.

After watching 10 Cloverfield Lane, this reviewer had come away with the ambiguous question, “Can marketing ruin a film?” 10 Cloverfield Lane was undoubtedly a well-acted, tense film. But by using the “Cloverfield” name, certain expectations were set. The film had nothing to do with the 2008 giant monster movie, thus producing massive disappointment. It felt like marketing was just using the Cloverfield name to sell tickets. Fast forward to February 4, 2018, a brand new film with the Cloverfield title launched on Netflix. The trailer premiered during Super Bowl 52. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, where the trailer did not align itself with the 2008 film aside from the title, the trailer for the third film proudly stated that the story would show why the monster appeared out of nowhere. We learn why artificially, in this film titled The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Julius Onah. Though not coming close to the quality of the 2008 film, Paradox is nonetheless an engaging film, with an interesting story and sometimes unsettling atmosphere.

The backdrop for the film is that Earth is running out of energy resources. In order to combat that, the world governments send a space station to utilize a particle accelerator. If successful, the accelerator will be able to draw unlimited amounts of energy, thus eliminating the shortage problem. After a failed attempt, the space station’s crew once again fires the accelerator. It seemingly works, but something odd makes the crew look outside the space station’s windows.

The Earth is gone.

At first, it appeared the film was going to be like Alien or Life. (Tell me you didn’t automatically think Chestburster when Volkov started to have a seizure.) It soon becomes apparent that the story is going in a different direction. There’s a sense of great tension and dread as the characters can’t see the Earth. Did they just destroy their planet? That was an incredibly interesting concept, and really makes the viewers think how they would react if they had been part of this crew. Things take a turn for the mind-bending as other dimensions and messing with reality comes into play. It never becomes too sciencey however, just interesting enough to make sure the viewer is paying attention.

The cast features some big names, such as Daniel Brühl (Zemo in Captain America: Civil War) and David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma.) Oyelowo is particularly engaging as the crew’s captain, Kiel. One particular standout scene was him confronting  Brühl’s character later in the story. “We trusted you! For two years!” Kiel shouts. Oyelowo did an excellent job showcasing his genuine frustration with a man whom seemingly is a traitor. Our main protagonist is Ava Hamilton, portrayed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Ava is an engaging character, showcasing a love for her family back home. Her character is further deepened near the story’s climax, when we learn she was indirectly responsible for a personal tragedy. Her relationship with her husband Michael feels genuine. Michael’s scenes back on Earth are always a highlight. It’s a shame there wasn’t more screen time dedicated to the intense Earth scenes with him.

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Most of the characters are fine, but it does take a bit in the beginning to care about them. One character who did not particularly work even after the first half hour was Mundy. It seems he was just put there for forced snappy lines, such as “Well we found the worms” and “What are you talking about arm?!” His reaction to his limbless arm also came off as incredibly unrealistic and took away from the tense atmosphere. He was really the only severely weak character however. Tam and Mina Jenson, the latter whom emerges a particularly important character in the climax, were solid. Considering Mina’s explanation of the alternate dimension, her motivation in the climax is very interesting to watch.

This type of film can falter if certain aspects of the story isn’t explained. While the film attempts to explain the dimension aspects, there are some things that aren’t explored well enough. For example, what was the point of the worms? It was never given a reason why they were there, other than to look creepy. Why did the wall gain sentience and  trap Mundy? These things aren’t truly explained. The other unexplored aspect is the film’s relation to the first Cloverfield. Let’s look at this. I said in the first paragraph that Paradox artificially sets up the first film. This is because the viewer is only left to assume why the monster appears. It’s difficult to infer if the particle accelerator is what woke the monster. It’s not explicitly said, and because the way things go in the film, it feels like the original Cloverfield aspect was thrown into the story in the last second. The storylines between Ava on the space station and Michael dealing with something happening on Earth almost seems like two separate movies. The final shot of the film is epic, though it comes off as forced to make up for 10 Cloverfield Lane having nothing to do with the first film.

Overall, The Cloverfield Paradox is an intriguing case of a film. Paradox has a great story, and unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, it actually connects to the original monster movie. However, Paradox barely seems about Cloverfield, until the last few seconds. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a more consistent movie for this reason. It seems like the writing wanted to make sure not to further alienate fans of the original movie with Paradox, so they forced an unexplained reason for it to be a prequel. What if Paradox eliminated all references to the original film? Well, it would have fallen into the same boat as Lane, bearing the Cloverfield name, but having nothing to do with it. So, unless it stuck with its original title, “God Particle,” many viewers would have probably felt cheated again. Though, some might still feel cheated because of the forced relation to the original film, instead of it being an organic part of the story. It is indeed quite a paradox when discussing this movie. At the end of the day, The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t a bad film, with some engaging characters, an interesting story, and a decent soundtrack. If its relation to the original film had been more organic and explained, this could have been a fantastic prequel.

7/10

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10 CLOVERFIELD LANE Review

It’s amazing to think that it’s been eight years since Cloverfield. If the Blair Witch Project was the film that popularized the found footage genre, Cloverfield is the one which perfected it. The best thing about it was that it put the viewer directly in the action. It felt like we were there experiencing an attack from a giant monster. A sequel has been talked about briefly over the years since. The way it was always mentioned however made it seem like it would probably never happen.

Then 10 Cloverfield Lane popped up out of nowhere.

Immense credit has to be given to Bad Robot for keeping this film literally a secret. It was announced with that title just a few months ago officially. Obviously the most hyped aspect was that middle name. Fans of the original have been hoping for a followup. (After all, the after-credits sequence there revealed that the monster “is still alive.”) Interestingly, Producer J.J. Abrams didn’t use the word sequel to describe Lane, instead calling it a “blood relative.” What that meant wouldn’t really be discovered until opening day, since everything was kept quiet. So, what have we got? 10 Cloverfield Lane is a well acted, well written story. If you’ve never seen the previous film, great, this will be a stellar experience for you. If you’re like me and you have, there’s a big disappointment factor accompanying the well done nature of the plot.

The opening of any story has the ability to draw a person in. The intro here is definitely one of the best I’ve seen in awhile. The only negative I have with it is the very beginning. Michelle apparently is driving out of New Orleans. The city however looked like a barren wasteland out of I Am Legend. It seems like the apocalypse happened, not a blackout as the radio stated. After that is when the good part of the intro comes. Car crashes are frightening, and the way the film uses it is effective. The sudden cuts to the logo was very well utilized. After that the story begins where all the trailers center: the bunker.

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First, great credit should be given to Mary Elizabeth Winstead for the portrayal of a character waking up trapped in a jail-like setting. We can see the peril on her face. It’s the little things like her hands trembling as she tries to dial her phone which provide a legitimate feel to the scene. We’re then introduced to John Goodman’s character, Howard. The film does a good job keeping the viewer on edge with this guy. Is he crazy? Is he really trying to help? The story does solid work in slowly unraveling this mystery. Rarely seen in the trailers is John Gallagher, Jr’s character, Emmet. He provides the comic relief in a rather grim situation. I suppose he could be this film’s version of Hud from the original Cloverfield. Emmet wasn’t as greatly written as the other two main characters, but still not bad.

As a thriller, the film moves at a solid pace. The first half was excellent. In a way however, it can feel like one large setup. The main thing is that by the halfway point when the lyrical music started to play I couldn’t help but feel that something should be happening. If the film was going to relate itself to Cloverfield, then there had to be some kind of monstrous presence by that point. Viewers of the original movie is there waiting for that “big thing” to happen. And just when something appears to happen, (classic rumbling tease) nothing really comes out of it. This leads to the main disappointment: the film has nothing to do with Cloverfield.

Interestingly, Lane had started out with having nothing to do with Cloverfield. Then Bad Robot/J.J. Abrams entered the picture and decided to align the film with the monster movie. This was a mistake. According to Abrams, “You have to have an idea that’s better than what people think they want to see to make a movie.” So this is apparently a better idea than a followup? He goes on to say the film has a connection to the original in “DNA,” which further gives an illusion that while maybe not a direct sequel, it could still be part of that movie. It’s not.  There were so many fan theories which resulted from the trailers with the reason why the characters were all in a bunker. Some theorized that it could be due to the 2008 monster making its way there or more nuclear strikes on the creature. This would have made great sense and satisfied watchers of the original. Instead, it seems like the Cloverfield name was only put there to attract viewers, which is a true shame and crime to fans.

Based on the mysterious nature of the marketing and trailers, the final act was going to be quite the surprising outcome. It’s so unexpected that it feels like we’re watching another film. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call 10 Cloverfield Lane a longer Twilight Zone episode. Ironically, this would have been better as the new Twilight Zone movie rather than a so-called relative to the 2008 film. The soundtrack is very solid throughout. Almost of the perilous scenes are given greater intensity.

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Overall, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a well done thriller and a solid first outing for Director Dan Trachtenberg. The mystery keeps the viewer intrigued as it throws clues and twists to keep he/she guessing. The concept of waking up and being in a bunker after a supposed fallout of some kind is a great setup. Michelle is a likable focus, and Howard is intriguing to watch as we try to understand his motives. Unfortunately, the out of left field final act doesn’t satisfy the “Cloverfield” name, and felt like it was there just to have something unexpected happen. All throughout marketing it has been said it’s not a sequel, but still related. The thing is that it’s not and no one should pretend it is. It’s fine as a standalone film, not as something many have waited 8 years to see come to fruition. It would have been better if it had stuck to its original name, The Cellar.

7.5/10