Netflix surprised everyone (besides those who saw earlier reports that this would happen) by releasing the third Cloverfield movie, The Cloverfield Paradox, shortly after the Eagles won Super Bowl LII. But while this shock release might be a step forward for Netflix's ongoing efforts to dominate the entertainment landscape, The Cloverfield Paradox is a big leap backward for this growing hodgepodge of a franchise.
It was hard to know what to expect from this movie, given that it was originally conceived and partially produced as a different film entirely--The God Particle--before being re-worked during production to fit it into the Cloverfield universe. It turns out the original plot, of an experimental space station-cum-particle accelerator making the earth "disappear," remains largely intact. The movie follows the crew of said space station, plus a couple of characters on the ground, as they try to figure out what the heck happened.
The Cloverfield Paradox starts out riffing on the early structure of movies like Alien and The Thing, with some cursory efforts to establish personalities and relationships for its half dozen or so characters. They're all basically interchangeable by the end, and you'll be hard pressed to remember most of their names by the time the credits roll. But the movie really starts to fall apart once the crew activate the particle accelerator--a poorly explained attempt to solve an energy crisis back on Earth--and find themselves suddenly staring at a star-filled void where the Earth used to be.
There are some memorable moments early on, like when a mysterious stranger arrives on the station by apparently teleporting into the interior of a wall, wires and power conduits spliced through her hands and legs like vines that grew through her. The movie's few moments of body horror--like another scene involving a character's eyeball--are its high points.
But The Cloverfield Paradox quickly devolves into total camp nonsense from there on out, and it never recovers any of its early poise. This movie has only the superficial trappings of science fiction; it's really more like Poltergeist in space, but if nothing made sense. An integral space station part the size of a soccer ball inexplicably goes missing, then reappears somehow inside a character's stomach cavity. The space station eats comedian Chris O'Dowd's arm, which later reappears like the Addams family's "Thing" to crawl around and scrawl a message to its former owner. One room fills with water for no reason, while a wall in another room becomes magnetic, before some tentacle things appear out of nowhere and eat another character. One crew member seemingly becomes possessed by, uh, something--and then it's never mentioned again.
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None of this is ever explained, beyond some junky pseudo-science about the particle accelerator opening a demonic portal via "The Cloverfield Paradox" (yes, this movie meta-drops its own name in the first few minutes without ever actually explaining what that means). The whole thing eventually devolves into a multiple-timelines schlockfest, complete with one character's dead family still being alive in the other dimension, a la the fantastic 2011 sci-fi drama Another Earth (but bad).
The idea, it seems, is that the particle accelerator broke reality, and now any old wacky thing might happen. The movie's events exist outside logic or normal structure. The problem with that is they feel totally random, and it's hard to get invested in trying to make sense of the movie's over-complicated plot when the spaceship might eat or drown someone at any moment for no discernible reason.
Through it all The Cloverfield Paradox shoehorns in as many tenuous connections to the original Cloverfield as it can (something the thrilling 10 Cloverfield Lane, noticeably, felt no need to do). The one character left on earth, Roger Davies' Michael, struggles to make contact with the missing space station while all hell breaks loose around him. Presumably, these are the events of the original Cloverfield taking place in the background, although considering that movie appeared to take place in the present of the time (2008) and this movie is clearly in the near future, that makes little sense. Yet there's no other possible explanation, because the character himself has no actual purpose in the movie beyond giving us a limited perspective on the ground, and his subplot amounts to literally nothing.
By the time The Cloverfield Paradox limps lamely to its nonsensical yet somehow predictable conclusion, you'll probably already have stopped paying attention. The only good news is that Cloverfield 4--reportedly a World War II thriller involving Nazis--sounds like it will have little connection with this film. Here's hoping.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Some promising early set-up||Poorly developed characters|
|A few scenes of decent body horror||Nonsensical plot|
|Connections to Cloverfield feel forced|
|Hokey random "scares" and deaths|
|Predictable ending and overall structure|