In 2016, Beyonce did something unfathomable by releasing an album in secret. “Lemonade” arrived without the horns and long parades of marketing dollars, and reigned in a butt ton of success. The question that many had when the Queen Bee accomplished this historical precedent, was if movies could copy the same template. With Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon all becoming vital commodities in the landscape of filmmaking, that history-making moment was finally made possible from the continually revolutionizing hands of J.J. Abrams.
The unpredictable and secretive creator presented a prequel/sequel to his universe of unique monster movies. The original was near earth shattering with the marketing efforts from Bad Robot studios. The trailer stole all of Michael Bay’s thunder on “Transformers” opening night, and discussion boards took over the marketing from there. The second film was given proper trailers that never linked itself to the predecessor of the franchise, something that the third entry replicated as well.
Even after watching the sequel, your not quite sure how it correctly fits into the universe that was attacked by a monster from the sea. The one trailer that was showcased to over hundred million viewers at the big game was both marketing the film itself and its immediate release. I personally didn’t arrive upon viewing this movie until last night, which was a Wednesday for those who don’t want to do the calendar math of it all. And though I know this is a historical precedent for movies as a whole, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by a franchise that has had me tight within its grasp since its revolutionary trailer in 2007.
The story itself centers around a group of people who are aboard the Helios space station and are attempting to feed the starving Earth with an abundant amount of cheap and clean energy. Each member of the crew is a representative of a different country to showcase this mission as a global effort, and each member is given not much more character depth than just that. They are their countries best, but not their countries most exciting representation. Except for the UK’s hand chosen member, Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), whose tragic backstory becomes her character and common identifier. When the mission goes awry, and dimensions begin to collide, her only identity is that of her grief, which is much more than I can say for the rest of the characters.
Sci-fi movies should be the most sensational displays of escapism and originality, but “The Cloverfield Paradox” falls into the realm of sci-fi movies that feels far too familiar with far too original ideas. The idea of the Cloverfield monster being awoken from a crashing satellite that stems from a different dimension that then releases a creature from a distant galaxy upon the Earth is both investing and intriguing, and most importantly it's just a theory. That idea excites me and enthralls me, but it's just a theory because “The Cloverfield Paradox” plays some good defense by never stating what is exactly real and what isn't. It’s the film’s greatest strength and greatest flaw because the story itself is like any other spaceship gone awry storyline that we’ve seen before like “Event Horizon,” “Alien,” “Life,” “Gravity,” or “Blackhole.” We’ve seen this storyline before, but we haven’t seen the Cloverfield monster origin story before, and we still kind of haven’t.
The thrill and shrill storytelling works on a very lower tier, surface level kind of resonance. The moments of sci-fi cinema allow for some escapism to take place, but the rushed cliches of the sci-fi genre bring those moments back down to Earth like Elon Musk’s Falcon. If your a hardcore fan of space-centric storytelling, like I am, you can act like the proverbial consciousness of Jor-El in “Man of Steel.” Shouting out warnings and directions for the characters to follow, but sadly the characters find themselves in a soundproof screen that is unaffected by my screeches of assistance. Everything you think is going to happen, happens, and that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world.
The performances are surprisingly good and charismatic. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is freaking fantastic, and deserving of a major motion picture role in an Oscar-nominated movie. Chris O’Dowd is hilariously charming and can act as if he’s breaking the proverbial fourth wall as he joins the viewer in poking holes in the sheer stupidity of some of the more ludicrous beats of the film. Daniel Bruhl isn’t given enough time to bring his rehashed depiction of Zemo from “Captain America: Civil War” back to the screen once again, and Elizabeth Debicki feels like the non-gold painted version of the High Priestess of the Sovereign from James Gunn’s “Guardian of the Galaxy Vol.2.” The filmmaking of it all is surprisingly infectious, despite the film’s estimated $26 million budget. The visual effects are shockingly efficient, and the ship and costumes harken back to “Life” in a lot of ways but still feel indirectly tangible.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” may not be the most original showcase of sci-fi storytelling, but those kind of films are few and far between. The theories of its plot will begin to overwhelm Youtube with titles like: “Everything you missed in “The Cloverfield Paradox” or “How “The Cloverfield Paradox” ties into the Cloverfield universe.” As a fan of this franchise, you can expect that these videos will be consuming my viewing feed over the next couple of days, but the sheer magnitude of a film being released without millions of dollars worth of marketing behind it is the true takeaway here.
In the early nineties filmmakers learned that anything was possible through the power of visual effects, and now the game has changed once again. You can now skip the press junkets and the press centric Q&A’s because now you can just drop your film onto the public through streaming services without warning. No build up, no hype, just sit down and watch what we made.