Heads up, there are major spoilers ahead for Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and The Cloverfield Paradox. You’ve been warned.
During a Super Bowl of surprises, there were few as shocking as Netflix’s commercial touting The Cloverfield Paradox, the latest film in the Cloverfield series that would be premiering that night immediately following the game.
Those who had followed the saga of The Film Formerly Known as God Particle knew that there was a good chance Netflix would end up with the rights to the movie. Rumors ran rampant in recent weeks that Paramount was having cold feet over the film and wanted to cut their losses on the $40 million production rather than put any money behind a theatrical release. The film had not only changed titles multiples times, but release dates as well.
So when the surprise news hit that Netflix was dropping the film immediately, warning bells went off.
Those who didn’t know any of that inside baseball were perhaps more delighted to see another Cloverfield movie arrive in much the same manner of the first two. The original Cloverfield premiered 10 years ago on the back of a viral marketing campaign that hyped the monster movie through the roof. 10 Cloverfield Lane, a semi-sequel released in 2016, premiered in theaters just weeks after the initial teasers and advertising dropped.
The dramatic release of The Cloverfield Paradox followed in their footsteps and likely tapped into the excitement that accompanied those films and sent audiences running to theaters. (Both films grossed over $100 million worldwide.)
The problem with this strategy, of course, is that the films have to keep giving people a reason to remain excited for the next time they’re shocked and awed by the marketing twist to come. Also, the plot strategy behind the Cloverfield films — in which the stories are compact and separate, but also possibly connected around the arrival of alien monsters terrorizing our planet — requires a deft touch. For it to work, each film has to require a need to exist on its own while also justifying why the connective tissue between the films makes sense.
The Cloverfield Paradox fails on both accounts, calling into question the value of the entire franchise moving forward.
Paradox isn’t a bad film, per se. It’s just not a very good one.
Set in the near-future, a team of scientists and astronauts from around the world is sent into space to live and work on the Cloverfield Station in order to test a particle accelerator in the hopes that it could solve the global energy crisis currently ripping the nations of Earth apart. After two years of failure, the accelerator finally works, but it also creates the “Cloverfield Paradox,” which sends the station and its crew to another dimension. Meanwhile, the husband of one crew member finds himself in a race for survival from unseen forces that are destroying the city around him.
There are some fun twists and developments that occur along the way, but ultimately the film is a rather paint-by-numbers affair full of glaring plot holes and conveniences. The crew, most of whom are never really developed beyond “the Russian one” and “the Chinese one,” is dispatched one by one in a series of Final Destination-esque manners while the arrival of a mysterious new crew member also complicates things. Some confusing tonal shifts along the way rob much of the action of its weight (one character loses an arm and immediately starts quipping about it instead of, you know, freaking the hell out).
You can see the seams in the film, where the original version exists and the Cloverfield-added content came in later. (Like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Cloverfield Paradox was originally a standalone script unrelated to the franchise.) As such, you can also see how the film could have easily existed without being a part of this franchise. It might not have been a better film, but the fact that the Cloverfield content feels tacked on makes the combination feel all the more unnecessary.
One of the critiques of 10 Cloverfield Lane was that the eventual reveal that the outside world was indeed full of alien monsters was too vague and obtuse. Was it supposed to be related to the monster in the first movie or was it supposed to be a separate alien storyline unrelated except in name? Some people liked the idea of a movie series that went down that latter road, exploring different themes while tying them into alien twists. Other people were perplexed and wanted to see the stories dovetail in ways that made logical sense.
Cloverfield Paradox appears to try to appease that second ground, but the way it does so seems not to make any sense. In the trailer for the film, the tagline reads, “10 years ago, some thing arrived. Now, find out why.” The logical conclusion is that the events of this film would explain how we ended up with a giant monster terrorizing the people of New York City.
Immediately, though, that doesn’t make any sense. Cloverfield takes place in “present day” and there’s no indication that it’s the same “near future” world that the Cloverfield Paradox exists in. Not to mention that a space station like the one in the latest film is still decades off from being close to a reality.
What we find out is that by using the particle accelerator, the crew of Cloverfield Station rip a hole between dimensions, sending them to an alternate version of our universe and allowing the monster (or monsters) from the first film to arrive in ours. Whereas in the original film, the name Cloverfield comes from the clover-shaped footprints left behind by the monster, now we come to learn that the name comes from the aforementioned space station.
Back on Earth, Michael rescues a little girl and takes her to a bunker in a tacked-on plotline that clearly only exists to draw a direct line between this and 10 Cloverfield Lane. If the film is trying to make the case that this bunker and the bunker from the previous film are the same one, that theory is undone by the profession of the bunker’s owner, which is wildly different than John Goodman’s character’s job in that film.
Finally, the film ends with the remaining survivors ejecting from the station and returning to Earth. It’s implied that this is the “satellite” that falls to Earth in the final shot of the first film, long rumored to be the source of the monster. However, the final shot of the film is the Cloverfield monster rising from the clouds to acknowledge that it’s already here and ruining our world long before the ship touches down in the water, thereby nullifying the potential connection between the first film and third film. Plus, this version of the monster is way bigger than the one from the first film.
All of which is to say that, if they want to, the filmmakers can easily just claim the plots aren’t supposed to line up and with the realization that there are multiple dimensions at play, each film takes place in a different one. That, however, is at odds with the mission statement in the trailer.
That brings us back to the initial point that in order for us to care about the next Cloverfield film, the previous ones need to keep us interested in the tenuous connections between them while also being quality films in their own right. And that just wasn’t the case here. This film felt like a direct-to-DVD release, back when that was a thing, that someone decided to jazz up with some fancy clothes.
Is that what the Cloverfield franchise wants to be moving forward? A collection of rejected Black Mirror episodes turned into movies that would have premiered on your local Blockbuster’s new arrival shelf not too long ago? The expectation that you’ll be able to keep churning out films like that and succeed simply by tacking on a reveal of the Cloverfield monster in the final frame is myopic. If anything, the revelation that this film is wearing the emperor’s new clothes kills any chance that kind of strategy ever had.
Instead of getting excited to find out another Cloverfield movie is quietly being filmed and will be released in the same surprise manner, all audiences have now been trained to see this for the marketing ploy it is. It’s a shame, really. The first film had so much promise for a fun franchise and the second film took things in an interesting direction worth exploring. But instead of digging into the themes and concepts that made those films work, it looks like producers would rather just try to milk the Cloverfield name dry and Monday Morning Quarterback the plots into logical sense later.
Unfortunately, a distributor like Netflix is more than happy to do things that way. For them, the franchise’s name value is all that matters and they can always just talk up the film’s success even if it’s not true. (No one will ever know, anyway.)
Perhaps there is a solution to be found by taking a different tack. Would a Cloverfield story make sense as a limited series? Or perhaps try creating an anthology series like Black Mirror that weaves in and out of the central plotline with more gracefulness than this film? Chances are, another film isn’t going to work, especially if they’re going to try to build on what’s an already messy continuity. We know someone will give it a go, but let’s hope they actually learn the lessons of Cloverfield Paradox and make a better choice.