J.J. Abrams The Cloverfield Paradox Invades Netflix [Movie Review]
It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon. You’re perusing the titles on Netflix.
“Hey, isn’t this the film shown in that random SuperBowl ad last Sunday? The third part of a (so far) movie trilogy? Why was there no theatrical release and where did it come from?”
All of those marketing questions aside, I can tell you that it’s worth a look.
The Cloverfield Paradox follows a group of highly-trained specialists, orbiting Earth in a space station, as they attempt to harness the power of “The Shepard Particle Accelerator” to solve an energy crisis back on Earth. The crisis has reached a breaking point and a World War seems imminent. Despite the possibility of the titular paradox (including opening potential gateways to other dimensions), the group continues to test the accelerator again and again. When they eventually find success, they’ll immediately realize that something has changed – for themselves and everyone back on Earth.
The cast is filled out by several recognizable faces, including Selma’s David Oyelowo, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Zhang Ziyi, Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd and The Alienist’s Daniel Bruhl.
It’s a very professional cast and they all do a fine job – even though their characters are not at all fleshed out. It’s definitely an ensemble piece, but as all good multiple-character stories should be, there is a central character.
As Ava Hamilton – the film’s lead character – Gugu M’Batha Raw truly shines in the film. Hamilton is really the only character with any back-story, and M’Batha Raw is able to draw up some sympathy in a film where the action is the big star. She’s given several opportunities to deeply emote, and her ability to produce true waterworks is a lovely gift. I’ve always found it tough to completely give myself over to actors in a scene – who are meant to be emotional and who are supposed to be crying – but who cannot produce real tears. It makes a difference, and M’Batha Raw is able to easily draw us in. And of course, with no other character’s journey to distract us, Hamilton gets all of the attention. And there is a true sacrifice and dilemma which Hamilton must endure. For what is a mostly shallow, effects heavy, Saturday afternoon diversion – both the character of Hamilton and the actor portraying her – have surprising depth.
There are some extremely creative and sometimes disturbing death sequences (which I’ll not reveal here), and on the opposite end of tragedy is comedy. The comic relief dialogue afforded O’Dowd’s character never really hit its mark.
I thought some of the story’s twists and turns became a bit convoluted and frankly difficult to follow. Some clarity – specifically how exactly The Shepard Particle Accelerator actually was to solve the energy crisis – would have been appreciated. Of course, I’m not asking for a boring textbook manual description, but a little something if you will.
And some sort of Russian/German espionage and intrigue was introduced, but never felt fully developed.
While I was not necessarily a fan of the original Cloverfield, I did fall in love with 10 Cloverfield Lane. And this third installment in the franchise (they are touting this as a prequel to the earlier films) throws in some recognizable details from the first two films. And being the film nerd I am, I am always pleased when they’re done well. And considering I’ve only seen the first two films once (each), I still got the callbacks (calls-forward) present here.
I see the need for the inclusion of the B-storyline, via Hamilton’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) – to keep the audience informed on how the events in outer space are affecting those still on Earth, but it sometimes felt like a distraction and took away from the film’s sense of isolation and claustrophobia (which was never fully exploited). These scenes back home are a fun way to tie in some 10 Cloverfield Lane parallels, but I wonder if there were another way to get across some of the necessary information without cutting back. Story-telling quandary…
With J.J. Abrams on board as one of the producers for this film, you can imagine that he gathered the finest of technical geniuses from his Star Trek and Star Wars past (and future) to design and carry out the myriad of special effects, visual effects and production design. It’s all visually delightful, rich and creative.
Would I have liked a bit more of the monsters we’ve come to know and love in this franchise? I think so. Of course, the installment just prior to this saved all of that for the final moments as well.
The film is full of the usual “outer space danger” trappings – oxygen depletion, explosions, navigational errors, and so the film never feels terribly original. And you’ll ask yourself the question (at more than a few scenes), “Have I seen a lot of this before?” Yes. With call-outs to Alien, Gravity, Interstellar and even Carpenter’s The Thing (you’ll know the scene when you see it) – there weren’t a lot of shiny, new ideas at which to marvel.
Even a music cue in the film’s opening credits (from 10 Cloverfield Lane composer, Bear McCreary) sounded creepily similar to a piece from Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score.
The film has been out for less than a week, and from what I gather on social media – it’s developed and left in its wake, quite a trail of disappointment and dare I say, hatred?
But to me, it’s not that bad. It’s not ground-breaking, it’s not original, but I was pleasantly taken out of my own troubles for 102 minutes to share in the troubles of someone else – in outer space. I was entertained.
And so, I’m sure I’ll be one of the few to offer up a generally positive review of the film.
A very respectable 3 1⁄2 stars it is…
And finally, I’ll add this: This chapter certainly has me jonesin’ to go back and give the original film another shot. And while I’m at it, I may just check out 10 Cloverfield Lane again. A fourth installment in the franchise (tentatively titled Overlord) has already wrapped production.
The Cloverfield Paradox is now available on Netflix.