MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ is a splendid surprise from the universe, hiccups and all

Stunning, trippy, terrifying and surprisingly human, Julius Onah's surprise Netflix prequel is a beauty to behold, despite a few franchise inconsistencies

| February 5, 2018

In the interest of readers, I will reveal a few plot points, but nothing that would constitute as a “spoiler”

Holy moly. While reports have surfaced recently about Netflix seeking the rights to the as of then untitled sequel in the “Cloverfield” universe, no one could’ve predicted the way that Netflix would go about this release. Instead of giving audiences a few weeks to a few months to hype up the film, officially titled “The Cloverfield Paradox,” Netflix made the decision that during its Super Bowl TV spot, they would announce its surprise release of immediately after the Super Bowl. Not only did Netflix score the rights to a major studio franchise, it surprised audiences with an immediate release. Nothing like this has ever been done before, nor will the effect ever be the same again, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is a groundbreaking film off the bat.

The “Cloverfield” universe is my “Star Wars.” The collection of interwoven Twilight Zone-esque films from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company are always as haunting as they are unique. The first film dropped a trailer with no title during the summer of 2007, with a title card only reading “1-18-08,” which led to fan speculation for months leading up to the release of the found footage monster movie. Its spiritual successor, “10 Cloverfield Lane,” dropped a trailer two months before the release of the film, with no one aware that the film was happening, let alone already released. Now, “The Cloverfield Paradox” has dropped out of nowhere, and I had a brief four hour panic attack leading up to the Super Bowl’s conclusion. I wasn’t ready for it just yet, I needed time to mentally prepare, and I simply had to go in overwhelmed.

And overwhelming it was. Overwhelming, but so strangely satisfying.

Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), along with her crewmates, Kiel (David Oyelowo), Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Volkov (Askel Hennie), Monk (Jon Ortiz) and Tam (Zhang Ziyi), are astronauts aboard a state-of-the-art space station, carrying a powerful particle accelerator, with the chance of supplying an energy-deprived Earth with unlimited energy, averting the world from war. When the accelerator overloads, the crew find them lost in space, millions of miles away from Earth. While figuring out how to use the accelerator to get home, they soon begin to realize the fabric of their existence is far more disturbing than they could’ve ever imagined.

PR stunts aside, is “The Cloverfield Paradox” good? Simply put, yes. “The Cloverfield Paradox” is one of those films that needs to be seen to be believed. Not that it’s salacious or shocking in any way, but the film gets into elements that go beyond the standard cliché prediction of what goes into a “space crew in peril” film that’s been rampant in our film world over the past few years. The difference here is that the monster is far more shadowed and intriguing. It has a sense of childlike wonder about its terror, like you’re seeing something for the first time, which you indeed are. “The Cloverfield Paradox” has its fair share of “holy shit” moments, some that will take your breath away in its blind terror and haunting beauty.

In fact, I didn’t expect “The Cloverfield Paradox” to be as touching as it is. There’s a ton of raw emotion and feeling in this film that most films of the kind don’t bother tapping into, as it often doesn’t fit the brand of sci-fi horror films. In fact, despite “The Cloverfield Paradox” coming across more of something like “Alien” or “Prometheus,” the film more so lines up with the feeling that “Interstellar” instilled in me after its first viewing. It’s overwhelming in the ground it covers, it’s beautiful and instills a sense of humanistic hope that’s as strangely touching as much as it is savagely gutting.

Performances across the board are strong, with each of the talented actors giving memorable characters in a film that moves at the speed of light. Ortiz and Hennie have the least to really work with here, but do great work in their roles given, especially Hennie’s unexpected physicality needed for his role. Zhang is a welcome addition to the cast, as she hasn’t been seen in much American cinema since “Horsemen” in 2009, and more famously with “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2005. Zhang has a real sense of duty in her role, one that’s strong and present, even if she doesn’t speak a word of English in the film, her power is made present early on. And while O’Dowd, Oyelowo and Brühl do great work with their characters, it’s Mbatha-Raw who steals the entire film as Hamilton. This is a hard, yet vulnerable character faced with some of the hardest decisions a human can be faced with traveling across the universe.

Directed by upcoming filmmaker Julius Onah, the film, despite having a significantly lower budget than many space films, looks the part just as seamlessly as its similar counterparts. There’s no doubt that Paramount’s initial plan of releasing the film in IMAX is well-founded. Visually stunning, while also claustrophobically intimate at some points. It’s a haunting image of a world ripped away and the blur between realities. There are some visually confounding moments of true awe and horror that felt as jarring as they were gorgeous.

The film is also complimented wonderfully by Bear McCreary’s dreamy score. One part “Silent Hill,” one part “Godzilla,” one part “Pride and Prejudice,” it’s a concoction of a lot of different tones that somehow come together into something cohesive. I’m not sure how, but it’s a wonderfully lush soundtrack that really accentuates a lot of the complexities with the film.

Is “The Cloverfield Paradox” perfect? No. There’s an inserted storyline in the film that felt entirely out of place and unfortunately brought a lot of the pace of the film down. I know why it was in there, but there were certain embellishments that simply were added to drag the film down for no reason. At 101 minutes, the film didn’t need the stretch, and the biggest issue with these scenes wouldn’t have even taken that much time off the film, leaving us this messy addition to the film that was unneeded.

Other nitpicks might be in a few of the films visual effects that sometimes were just a tad noticeable, with only two or three brief moments peeking through, but noticeable nonetheless.

Then, there’s its tying into the “Cloverfield” universe. It certainly does more than “10 Cloverfield Lane” did, and perhaps not every bit of it works. Some points of the film do feel a bit convenient for the universe itself, and not all the answers posed gets answered. As someone who knows that the “Cloverfield” universe already has more installments ahead, I know that some questions posed in this film might transfer over to other films, but for now, we’re left a little ambiguously lost on some fronts. It’s not as severe as it sounds in writing, but don’t expect the entire universe to open up to you, especially not on one watch.

And here’s where I think “The Cloverfield Paradox” is going to find its shine: in its subsequent viewings. Some people are going to hate this film, refusing to return to it after one viewing, but I still think second and third viewings are going to illuminate things we missed the first time. The “Cloverfield” series has been known for sneaking a hell of a lot of easter eggs and quick catches into their films, illuminating a whole new side to things we might not have seen before. With the trippy, occasionally strange moments, there’s certainly something there snuck up its sleeve.

Where does “The Cloverfield Paradox” lie in the way of the rest of the “Cloverfield” universe? Despite its trippy uniqueness and surprising heft to it, it does hit the end of the pack, if only for the stiff competition it was put up against. The first film set the stage in haunting simplicity, while the second film was tasked with setting up a universe that goes beyond the monster, but “The Cloverfield Paradox” has the unfortunate distinction of having to marry the two in the way to make the film series seem cohesive with each other. It’s an unfortunate placement for the film in the chronology of the series, as now the future films have the freedom to go as close to or as far away to the initial set up that birthed “Cloverfield” as it wants to. “The Cloverfield Paradox” has a little bit of middle movie syndrome where they have to justify its existence before unleashing the beast. Each of the previous films fell on two ends of a related spectrum, and this film had to make sure the tones and questions both posed were addressed, even if it didn’t absolutely need to be.

So what is the truth on “The Cloverfield Paradox”? I found it to be a beautiful and sometimes overwhelming film that, despite its occasional inconsistencies, managed to really stun with some truly breathtaking sequences that balance out its sometimes irrelevant or clunky elements. It’s bolstered by great performances, and (mostly) stunning visual effects that create a strangely fascinating world to watch unfold. It struggles a bit with tying the film in with the universe without either answering too little or too much at once, particularly with that storyline I take issue with so much. Still, as a thriller, the film is a unique film with a dark underbelly that keeps you guessing, no matter how much you might not identify with it. It’s a strange departure for the series, one that’s going to polarize greatly. In the end, there’s a ton more good than bad in “The Cloverfield Paradox,” with only its successful siblings name to live up to holding it back, which sounds much worse on paper than in execution. It certainly sets a precedent, not only for how the series is going to progress, but the ways in which Netflix can release films in ways we’ve never seen before. That might not make the film loved, but it’s certainly going to draw attention to the title, and send ripples throughout Hollywood for just how films will be released in the future.

4/5

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Directed by: Julius Onah
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Askel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, Zhang Ziyi.
Runtime: 101 minutes
Rating: Not rated
Now streaming on Netflix.

Netflix and Paramount Pictures present, a Bad Robot production, “The Cloverfield Paradox”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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