A film review by Craig J. Koban February 13, 2018


2018, No MPAA Rating, 102 mins.


Daniel Brühl as Schmidt  /  Elizabeth Debicki as Mina Jensen  /  Aksel Hennie as Volkov  /  Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ava Hamilton  /  Chris O'Dowd as Mundy  /  John Ortiz as Monk  /  David Oyelowo as Kiel  /  Zhang Ziyi as Tam  /  Roger Davies as Michael  /  Clover Nee as Molly  /  Donal Logue as Mark Stambler  /  Simon Pegg as Radio Voice  /  Greg Grunberg as Joe (voice)  /  

Directed by Julius Onah  /  Written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung


Looking back on the first CLOVERFIELD film from 2008 and it's hard to overstate, in retrospect, what a masterpiece it was in terms of movie and viral marketing.  

The J.J. Abrams produced and Matt Reeves directed monster invasion thriller was advertised with cryptic and compellingly vague trailers (the first of which didn't even attach a title to the preview).  Then came 2016's superb sort-of-sequel, sort-of-not-a-sequel 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, which began as a low budget thriller, only later to be reconfigured before release to serve as a spiritual successor to the first one.  Now comes THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX, which arguably take movie marketing, distribution, and release down all new previously uncharted territory.   

I will say this: The advertising of this third film in the CLOVERFIELD trilogy (if we can even call these three very loosely connected films just that) was ballsy.  Originally based on a spec script called THE GOD PARTICLE (that was acquired by Paramount Pictures and Abrams' Bad Robot), THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX didn't even begin as a CLOVERFIELD sequel, but was - like its antecedent - retrofitted to become one during production by Abrams and company.  The film's release was delayed several times, but then during Super Bowl LII a scant 30 second teaser ad for the film ran...and not only that...it was advertised that the entire film would be free for all to stream on Netlfix later that night after the football game.  Social media was absolutely abuzz with this news, and the studios involved essentially abandoned the typical advertising model of several months of plastering their film everywhere (and at a very expensive sum) and instead plugged it once during the largest TV audience of the year for all to see the same evening in the confines of your home, which meant that it created instant must-see buzz right from the get-go.  I can't think of any previous mainstream film sequels - or any other films in general - that audiences could watch hours after a first preview.  It's absolutely unprecedented. 



Now, as innovative as the promotion of THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX was, one question remains:   

Is the film any good?   

The short answer: sort of. 

Rather impressively, this sequel features a rather brilliantly assembled international cast, which gives the film a unique and refreshing flavor.  Beyond that, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX boasts some rather impressive production values and visual effects scale on what's assumed to be a smaller than normal budget, which makes the resulting film look anything but cheap.  The direction from Julius Onah, for the most part, displays a confidence with the underlining material, which in turn contains a central premise that's enthrallingly fertile for the sci-fi genre.  Unfortunately, though, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is paradoxically misadvertised as a thrilling new chapter in this series that would finally explain where that damn monster from the first film that destroyed Manhattan came from, only failing on most concrete levels of owning up to such promises.  Part of what I appreciated about 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE was how decidedly different it was from CLOVERFIELD, and it never explicitly went out of its way to falsely advertise itself as a bona fide follow-up film with answers to many tantalizing questions.  THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX staunchly markets itself as an answer film, but by the time the end credits rolled by I felt somewhat duped, and that's why this film feels like one big cheat. 

Without going into heavy spoilers, the linking of this film to CLOVERFIELD 1 is not only flimsy, but also really, really feels like the part of tinkering with the film mid-production.  Contradictorily, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX seems to be desperately trying to entrench and connect the franchise mythology, but it adds so very little to it that I was left wondering why this film even has the word CLOVERFIELD in its title (outside of instant brand recognition).  That's too bad, because the film opens rather well and, early on at least, got me invested.  With a not-to-distant-future world falling apart and resources growing ever so scarce, humanity's last hope is the Cloverfield Station, which orbits the Earth and is home to a group of scientists that are trying to manipulate a particle accelerator to grant the planet unlimited sources of new and clean power.  On the mission are Kiel (David Oyelowo), Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl), Volkov (Aksel Hennie), Tam (Zhang Ziyi), Mundy (Chris O'Dowd), and Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the latter who has a deeply personal stake on ensuring Earth's future, having lost two children and leaving her husband (Roger Davies) back at home.  After some early failed attempts to make the accelerator work, the crew pushes forward despite worries of an overload, which does happen and with shocking results, which becomes especially frightening when it appears that the malfunction has sent the ship not only away from Earth, but to perhaps a whole other dimension altogether. 

Now, aside from this film's uniquely weird storyline that crackles with reasonable intensity and interest early on, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is kind of thanklessly well acted by most of the players involved, who have to collective play things straight despite being in what amounts to be an uber effed up TWILIGHT ZONE episode from hell.  In particular, I thought that Mbatha-Raw (whom I thought was very good in the mostly forgettable Civil War drama THE FREE STATE OF JONES), gave a very layered and emotional turn as her beleaguered scientist that eventually has to deal with being whisked along with her crew to that alternate dimension with very personal effects on her.  Her character is the only one, though, that's afforded any dramatically potent beats, seeing as she has to deal with not only separation anxiety from her husband, but also the guilt tied to the loss of her children.  She's the empowered emotional glue that sort of holds THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX together throughout. 

After a very solid 45-plus minutes or so, it regrettably becomes abundantly clear that THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX begins running out of creative gas, especially in the manner it starts piling on stale sci-fi genre/mad scientists in space film clichés, showing the characters struggling - mentally and in some cases physically - to acclimate to a new dimension.  Some scenes are uniquely horrifying, such as one poor soul that becomes one with a part of an exhibit of worms that was on board the ship that culminates with gory results.  Other scenes inspire incredulous laughter, like one involving another crew member's arm is sliced off by liquid metal walls caused by the inter-dimensional travel that results in a reaction that's surprisingly and illogically nonchalant.  There are ample twists and turns in the narrative in hopes of paying off to something big (which is a cornerstone to Abrams' own "mystery box" storytelling style), but when a film of promise eventually devolves into obligatory third act violence and standoffs you kind of want to shake your head in disbelief.  THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX opens smartly, but ends stupidly. 

This film's biggest sin, as already mentioned, is that it gives the impression of revealing the origin of the original CLOVERFIELD monster, but then pretty much fails on carrying those promises through to acceptable fruition.  Yes, there are details tossed in here and there throughout the narrative that crudely attempt at making these films feel like a larger part of a shared cinematic universe, but it's fairly undeniable that THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX was never designed and engineered as a worthy addition to this series.  I think if this film (a) didn't have any connection to the world of CLOVERIELD and (b) just tried to be its own entity then I arguably would have responded to it more favorably.  Rather shamelessly, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX wastes a wonderful ensemble of actors, a director with a good visual style and eye for suspense, and captivating ideas for the purposes of trying to be a piece of franchise connective tissue.  More than anything, I think that THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX makes for a more fascinating case study in terms of its marketing and release build up being more intoxicating than the movie itself.  It's also a cautionary tale of how to generate audience buy-in for your product with the implied promise of series payoffs, only then to offer next to none.   

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX will be discussed for years to come in film studies classes for how much social media chatter it generated hours before its release, but not for the final product quality itself.  And that's telling.  Maybe J.J. Abrams needs to retrofit his mystery box methodology going forward.  

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