Film

Dual Reviews: The Cloverfield Paradox

Paradox
Photo © Netflix

 

Low Upside’s C.J. Garrett and Chris Barlow share their conflicting opinions on Netflix’s recent release, The Cloverfield Paradox.

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I watch a lot of movies. Anyone who follows me on twitter knows that. I watch a large percentage of those movies on Netflix, and about half of those movies are bad. You’ve read my column on the wonderful low upside dot com website, “This Can’t Be Good.” I will tell you right now, that column barely scratches the surface of the bad movie vault that Netflix has become.

Knowing this did not bode well for The Cloverfield Paradox.

It pleasantly surprised me.

Thank you for stopping at CJ’s Hot Take Factory. I liked a movie. Please eviscerate me on social media and buy a shirt at the gift shop.

Did it live up to the weird no-marketing-until-the-day-of-Super-Bowl-Commercial thing that they tried? No. It really didn’t. People expected a movie worthy of that kind of hype. It’s not that. But as to where it fits into the Netflix ecosystem at large? Yeah, it’s pretty good.

I think it helps that I’m not a crazy big fan of the Cloverfield Cinematic Universe. I loved 10 Cloverfield Lane because it’s a taut psychological thriller with incredible performances, not because it had Cloverfield monsters. I didn’t like the original Cloverfield because I don’t like found-footage horror. The greater Cloverfield world was no factor to me. So to me, this was just a movie. I watched movie pseudoscience used as an excuse for digestible horror and I enjoyed it for that.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I went into this, which I think is true for a lot of people based on how the film was teased and released. The turn the film takes from a sort of Chappie-esque sci-fi to light body horror may have been offputting to a general audience, especially since it comes almost out of nowhere. Not to drop too many spoilers, but the first big horror scene is unsettling in a way that is very different than 10 Cloverfield Lane. There’s something to be said for the uncomfortableness of prolonged, painful screaming.

Other than that, I think most of the movie is just fine. The acting is fine. The cinematography is fine. The directing is fine. The story is slightly better than fine, if only because of the ending. Again, minimal spoilers, but it’s an ending I should have seen coming but didn’t. I blame my lapsed mental state on the high of a non-Patriots Super Bowl victory . But to me the film works as greater than the sum of its parts. It has a synergistic x-factor that I’m buying into, and that synergy is the combination of a pretty decent movie with my extremely low expectations. This movie is entirely an excuse to show you scary, kinda gross space stuff, and it’s better than every Netflix original horror I’ve seen that’s not based off a Stephen King story.

 

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Let’s get this out of the way: I am a massive Cloverfield nerd. I did nonstop research as soon as the pre-Twitter viral trailer first teased me in theaters. I had my monster-sized expectations exceeded when I viewed it on its release date, then went home and delved even further into the mysteries left behind by the handheld-cam-led adventure. I read the weird manga tie-in series, studied the ending multiple times (tell me you don’t see that satellite at 1:42), and even poured hours into researching a fucking slushie knock off.

So when I learned of a new Cloverfield movie in the midst of Nick Foles being the greatest quarterback ever, I was conflicted. Here was a movie that claimed to answer the questions that Cloverfield protagonists Rob, Hud, and Beth could not solve, but at the same time would put an end to my decade-plus search for those answers. Did I really want to see the man behind the curtain? I decided I did…

…and I really wish I hadn’t.

The Cloverfield Paradox is set in 2028, 20 years after the movie it’s supposed to prequel. Don’t worry, it makes sense, kinda. Earth is in an energy crisis, and on the brink of World War III as a consequence. So Paradox’s protagonist, Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) leaves her husband, Michael Kiel (David Oyelowo) on Earth to join the Shepard program, an initiative that will supply Earth with an unlimited supply of energy from a particle accelerator.

When we first cut to Hamilton on the Cloverfield (like the movie!!!) space station, Paradox looks promising. The CGI is breathtaking, and the set design took away any predisposition I may have had that I was watching a straight-to-DVD B-movie. The starpower of Mbatha-Raw and Oyelowo only increased as the Cloverfield crew was introduced, including Daniel Bruhl (Rush) and Chris O’Dowd (the fun lrish cop from Bridesmaids).

Even once I got past all of the bells and whistles that came with Paradox, it still held its own for a solid 45 minutes. Insect-fueled explosions, spaceship-induced amputations, and people caught on the wrong side of teleportation all had me curious for what the hell was going on. But this is where everything fell apart. For a movie with an entire basis built on answering questions, it only provides one for everything: Shut up, it’s a different dimension.

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Photo © Netflix

Why did that guy blow up? It’s a different dimension. How does that detached arm have sentient thoughts and better penmanship than me? It’s a different dimension. Where did the monster come from? I’m not even sure if that one-size-fits-all answer applies here. ISN’T THAT WHY I DECIDED TO STREAM THIS??

The selling point of The Cloverfield Paradox was to answer the pressing queries left by the first installment. Yet only about 10 of the 95 minutes are dedicated to Kiel and his “encounters” with the monster on Earth. All of these moments feel hollow and are only downgraded by a been-there-done-that story of Oyelowo’s character helping a stranded girl find her parents (which he…kinda doesn’t?).

We don’t even see the monster until the very last shot of the movie, and this felt like less of an homage to dedicated fans, and more of an “oh shit, this is supposed to tie-in with Cloverfield” panic move. Also, am I supposed to believe that this thing is TALLER THAN FUCKING CLOUDS????

I could be a lot kinder to this movie, if J.J. Abrams was a little kinder to his fans. The Cloverfield Paradox is a Cloverfield movie in namesake only. Like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Abrams came onto this set in the midst of shooting and decided to add the Cloverfield touch afterward. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, this time I wasn’t happy with what I was tricked into watching.

Abrams claims this is his way of creating an exciting universe (read as: easy money). But Abrams has a habit of putting a positive spin on a steaming pile of poo. He recently called the Netflix release of Paradox a “fun” idea, when in reality it was just a panic dump by Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos to make a quick profit.

I do think the Netflix surprise release is awesome. An easily accessible medium paired with a highly anticipated release is the perfect combination; I couldn’t wait to stream Paradox and did so within 24 hours of the teaser. I just hope Paradox’s less-than-stellar feedback shows Netflix that a great marketing campaign needs a great product to go with it.

Even when I remove myself from the Cloverfield Universe, Paradox is still a hollow sci-fi movie that uses cheap plot points to get by. My biggest regret was that I didn’t write this review immediately after watching the movie, because a majority of it was so easily forgotten.  

The Cloverfield Paradox showed me the man behind the curtain, and he tried to sell me a bridge.

 

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