Release Date: February 4, 2018
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: Julius Onah
Studio: Paramount Pictures, Bad Robot Productions
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It’s safe to say that the Cloverfield franchise is standalone in the world of film and certainly in the world of media marketing. Arguably being one of the first most successful viral marketed films, Cloverfield expertly combined viral premiere clips with in-universe websites that included clues to the source of the film, and MySpace pages for the characters in the film itself. The piecemeal buzz of Cloverfield was punctuated by the film itself, a combination of found footage that created an intensely visceral experience for the audience. It changed the game for movie marketing, one that has yet to be successfully duplicated to the same esteem.
While the initial film that launched the “Cloververse” changed the game of marketing when it comes to films, their following sequel films also have not shied away from taking the boldest measures. In an age when movie hype is over-the-top (looking at you, every Marvel/Star Wars/DC production) and we have months and months to speculate and dissect trailers and teasers, this franchise is about as close as we can get to instant gratification these days.
Between the original film and Paradox was the hit suspense thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane, which dropped a note of its existence less than three months before its premiere. The Cloverfield Paradox launches with even less time between ad and release, showing only one ad during the 52nd Super Bowl, announcing that the movie would stream tonight, right after the game. Announced as Cloverfield 3 — previously given the working title God Particle — in October 2016, the third installment has been quiet in terms of content. No trailers, or ad spots, or even press releases until tonight.
And after jumping straight from the thrill of the Eagles win to The Cloverfield Paradox, what is the consensus?
Absolute sci-fi horror gold.
I deeply love the genre of space horror. The idea of a small group of people trapped in cold, dead space creates all kinds of potential for suspense and thrills. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, which is only tangentially connected to the original Cloverfield, Paradox attempts to address some of the questions fans have been speculating on for years within the Cloververse. For some, this movie creates more questions than it answers, relying on the old multiverse explanation to explain the monsters (to be fair, this is J.J. Abrams, if you wanted anything else, you’ve come to the wrong place).
In Paradox, an energy crisis is plaguing the earth. An international space team is a part of the Cloverfield station, trying to perfect the Shepard particle accelerator in order to create a new power source for the earth. Why are they in space? It’s too dangerous to conduct on earth, with conspiracy theorists believing that it could create portals to other dimensions, even leading monsters to earth, not only in the present but in the past and the future.
If you catch anything among the sci-fi explaining, it’s this. The space station’s testing of the Shepard particle accelerator could rip a hole in space-time and bring monsters into any of our universes and at any time. It’s kind of a cheap way of connecting the original film and its sequel, what the Cloverfield team did is the patient zero to the events in past universes. This is, admittedly, a weakness to Paradox. The science is a little lazy and hardly worth keeping up with.
But what Paradox lacks in scientific stamina, it has plot twists and space horror in spades. After a successful run of the accelerator after about two years of working on it, the inevitable happens. The accelerator causes a power surge and effectively knocks the team into another universe. In the process of trying to figure out where they are and how to get home, the team encounters horror after horror. They find Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), a mysterious woman who is seemingly familiar with the crew despite none of them having met her before, caught literally within the wires of the ship.
Volkov (Aksel Hennie) attacks Schmidt (Daniel Brühl) and Tam (Zhang Ziyi) and then collapses and dies, before vomiting up all of the station’s worms. Why worms are on the station is not really explained. Mundy’s (Chris O’Dowd) arm is pulled into the walls while he’s doing repairs on the ship and appears on another part of the ship, moving despite being disembodied. The arm then writes that they should check inside Volkov’s body, which they do, and find the gyroscope, an object that will allow them to navigate space.
At this point, writing all of this, it seems like the most overrated B-movie to anyone who hasn’t watched the movie. But Julius Onah is a master of pacing, jumping from different parts of the ship to the original earth, and back to space seamlessly. While certain plot elements feel rushed, there isn’t enough time to worry about your questions before the next scene shocks you.
With the gyroscope in place, the crew finds the constellation Cassiopeia, though it’s upside down. They realize, after talking with Jensen and reading their navigation, that they’re in another dimension. In this dimension, Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) never went up into the space station and her children are still alive, however, the rest of the crew is dead (most likely because of our Cloverfield station appearing in their universe) and they did not successfully use the Shepard.
After coming to this realization, the crew decides to repower the Shepard in order to go back to their universe. Though, at this point more of the crew start dying off. Tam dies after realizing that the Shepard was not properly ventilated, Mundy dies in the middle of some kind of strong magnetic field, Keil (David Oyelowo) dies sacrificing himself to save the ship.
Hamilton, realizing that this is the chance to see her family again, makes plans to go to the alternate earth. But, when Jensen turns on the crew, wanting to keep the particle accelerator for her earth — killing Monk (John Ortiz) and injuring Schmidt in the process — Hamilton overpowers and ejects Jensen into space before making the decision to return to her universe. She leaves a message to her alternate self on earth with the plans of the Shepard so that they can use it, and she and Schmidt power up the Shepard to go home.
In their earth, one of the Cloverfield monsters has attacked earth, leading Michael (Roger Davies), Hamilton’s husband, to seek shelter alongside a young girl named Molly (Clover Nee). As he gets news that Hamilton is found and is landing on earth soon, he warns them to stay up in space. With plot twists until the bitter end, we get a shot of the monster burst through the atmosphere of clouds as Hamilton and Schmidt plummet towards earth in their shuttle.
In what we might as well call the Cloverfield Formula, Paradox does for sci-fi space horror what 10 Cloverfield Lane did for post-apocalyptic horror. It bends the genre of monster movies, placing the story into a world where monsters exist. They’re not the main antagonist, but the caper that adds to a movie that’s barrelling towards the finish line.
Is Paradox full of unanswered questions? Yes and no. Many of the questions we have can be answered with the paradox theory. The idea that when the Shepard finally worked, it essentially created a ripple in space-time that launched the Cloverfield effect. We don’t know what happened on the alternate Cloverfield station, where Schmidt was apparently a traitor and a spy. We don’t know how the monster arrived on earth. We don’t know if there’s any connection between the shelter that Michael is in and Howard’s in 10 Cloverfield Lane. We don’t know if there’s any connection between Donal Logue’s Mark Stambler and John Goodman’s Howard Stambler. We don’t know why Zhang Ziyi’s Tam only speaks Mandarin when the actress speaks English and plays an engineer on an international space station — that question is never answered.
But do we really need those answers? Paradox works as a movie because it is shrouded in mysteries and questions that serve to fuel the suspense of the plot. We know where we start and we know where we’ll end, but they’ll take as many twists and turns getting there. The movie clocks in at 102 minutes, hardly enough time to answer all of the questions fans have about the Cloververse, but it’s enough time to craft a movie that gets the heart pumping. Creators like J.J. Abrams know what the audience loves, they love mystery. He’s no stranger to how rabid fans get with theories, but in the end, answers are rarely good enough. We’re fine with more questions than answers if it gives us another jaunt through genres like Paradox.
Final Thoughts: We’re sure there are those who will find Paradox lazy, but to us, this is another excellent addition to the Cloververse, and one that will serve to aid in future entries into the franchise. I can’t remember the last time I watched a good space horror movie, and Paradox gives us surprise after surprise from its announcement until the very last minute.