Beyond the films themselves, the Cloverfield franchise deserves to be recognised as one of the most innovative and surprising ones out there simply due to how the films are marketed and released. The first film back in 2008 was famously announced with just a vague teaser and release date, making audiences wait over a year to determine what it actually was. Then, eight years later, a sequel was confirmed only a month before the release of 10 Cloverfield Lane, which had almost nothing to do with the original beyond some minor references and hints to a larger cinematic universe. Now we’ve seen the surprise release of The Cloverfield Paradox, a Netflix exclusive film that was only announced only a few hours before the film was available to watch.
To honour the secrecy the Cloverfield films are famous for shrouding themselves in, I’ll keep the narrative details of this review vague. A team of scientists working on the Cloverfield space station are performing experiments on a particle accelerator in an attempt to create infinite energy and solve the world’s energy crisis. Things go horribly wrong.
The Cloverfield Paradox puts forth some genuinely interesting concepts and ideas within the first thirty minutes to an hour, with similarities to sci-fi films such as Alien, Event Horizon, and Sunshine. The introduction of Elizabeth Debicki’s character is both surprising and horrifying, and a particular death scene seems to be trying to out-do Alien’s famous chest-buster sequence through sheer gross-out qualities. For a while I was even optimistically thinking this could finally be a worthy successor to Ridley Scott’s genre-defining masterpiece, the shadow of which hangs over nearly all sci-fi horror pictures, but unfortunately Oren Uziel’s screenplay runs out of steam towards the end. The interesting and weirder elements of the first half of the film become replaced by the same types of conflict that seem to appear in every space film, and the climax boils down to a one-on-one fight rather than the Lovecraftian cosmic horror teased at by the premise. Characters shout clichéd dialogue at each other and you get the sense that not even the cast really understand what’s going on. Which is a shame, because director Julius Onah has assembled a brilliant group of performers including Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, David Oyelowo, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as protagonist Ava Hamilton. Each actor fully commits to their role, even if the script lets them down at times, and Mbatha-Raw does a tremendous job bring true emotion to an often insane film.
As was the case with 10 Cloverfield Lane, Uziel’s original screenplay was not initially intended to be a part of the wider franchise. This is distractingly noticeable at times – scenes of Hamilton’s partner Michael as he deals with a mysterious disaster on Earth completely divert from the main plot and seem to only exist to provide vague links to the previous films. Rather than answering any questions about the greater story of the Cloverfield franchise, though, The Cloverfield Paradox just raises more questions of its own. The last shot in particular felt like an infuriating tease of the movie I could have been watching, instead of a satisfying conclusion to the one I just watched. Apparently there’s another Cloverfield film due out towards the end of this year. Whether or not that one will do anything to explain itself I can’t quite say, but given the series’ track record so far I’m sure it will be more interested in trying to deliver its own surprises rather than giving some depth to the franchise.
Despite the flaws of The Cloverfield Paradox, and I can’t deny noticing plenty of other critical reviews, I couldn’t help but enjoy it as an unexpected treat. Being unaware of a film’s existence until a few hours before its release makes it hard to be disappointed or build any real expectations about the final product, a refreshing change from the sort of blockbusters scheduled years in advance by franchises like the MCU, DC, or Star Wars. The Cloverfield Paradox will most likely be remembered largely due to the clever marketing move of its surprise release, but there are worse surprises to be had.
3 and a half stars.