Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I'm Only Here For The Commercials

Year: 2018
Director: Julius Onah
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl 
Run Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: TV-MA

I had to be at work during the Super Bowl this past Sunday, which I certainly didn't mind. I didn't have to pretend to care about football beyond a general distaste for anything Tom Brady says or does. I didn't have to will myself into watching the halftime show - normally my favorite part of the broadcast - put on by the human equivalent of a big bowl of vanilla extract. But I also didn't get to see the historically bold move by Netflix, dropping the newest entry in the Cloverfield franchise with a trailer announcing that the movie would be available to stream the instant the game ended.

Now that's a rollout you just can't ignore. And don't let the immediate social media blowback fool you, this project is exactly like Beyoncé's similarly released self-titled album: only OK.

But since when have you ever heard an online hot take expressing how fine something was? It can only be one way or the other.

The Cloverfield Paradox takes place in a not-too-distant future where an energy crisis is causing major strife on good ol' Earth. To help save a world that's teetering on the brink of a major war, a team of international scientists build the Shepard space station, their mission being to experiment with the world's largest particle accelerator to create a sustainable source for clean energy.

Only, they're playing in God's domain (and by God, I mean J. J. Abrams), so there's a high risk factor.  If the crew - including grieving-mother-who-is-basically-Sandra-Bullock-from-Gravity Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the stern Captain Kiel (David Oyelowo), the Irish maintenance crew member Mundy (Chris O'Dowd), German scientist Schmidt (Daniel Brühl, who has been cropping up in more and more projects since his turn as the milquetoast villain Zemo in Captain America: Civil War), and Chinese engineer Tam (Ziyi Zhang of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha) - succeeds in their experiments, they might just tear a rift in the space-time continuum and cause a massive dimensional collision, unleashing a variety of monsters and adverse effects on the world in the past, present, and for however long it will take for these movies to stop making money.

I don't wanna spoil the plot here, but c'mon. They do the thing.

The Cloverfield Paradox is probably the worst Cloverfield movie, but what even is a Cloverfield movie anyway? The franchise itself doesn't seem to know. And if they keep just attaching the Cloverfield name to films that were developed without any plans of fitting into an increasingly massive monster series, they won't last long enough to figure it out. But if you have the foresight to detach yourself from any expectation at all that the film will be in any way remotely similar to the original film (hopes which 10 Cloverfield Lane should have dashed long ago), it's still a fun little sci-fi romp that's worth a look, though there's no way it could live up to the hullabaloo surrounding its rollout.

I'm going to say something that probably won't carry a lot of weight, but is exactly how I feel: if you liked the 2017 space horror movie Life, then you might just really dig The Cloverfield Paradox. It's a solid meat and potatoes sci-fi B-picture, with all the flatness of character that that implies. But hey, even Alien didn't bother giving anybody but its protagonist more than one trait.

The movie doles out a lot of bizarre plot developments that frequently seem contradictory or lack a proper explanation, but each individual moment is uncanny and watchable, keeping up a propulsive pace that sucks you in like the vacuum of space. Sure, The Cloverfield Paradox is a lot of goopy sci-fi nonsense, but since when is that a bad thing? The twists and turns that launch the plot into more and more deranged heights are fascinating and intense, promising another moment of gasp-inducing drama or solid body horror around each corner.

I bet Black Mirror is looking pretty safe and cozy right about now, huh?

And that cast! The players assembled here are vastly overqualified, and although not too many of their talents are taxed in any real way, Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives an astounding lead performance that grounds even the more forced plot moments in raw, genuine emotion. This woman is a movie star and she deserves all the success that Hollywood has to offer in this supremely weird time for motion pictures.

The only other actor who really makes a major impression is Chris O'Dowd, but unfortunately that's because he delivers some of the most odious comic relief this side of Jupiter Ascending. It's a testament to his skills as a comic that he can make some of his jokes land, but he sticks from the side of this movie like a rusty nail, ready to catch on your clothes when you least expect it.

OK, fine, maybe The Cloverfield Paradox is no masterpiece. But it delivers some gently futuristic background machines that whir pleasantly, plenty of Spielberg-adjacent flashing lights and special effects to gawk at in awe, and a largeness of scope that defies Netflix's limits as a streaming service. I've sat through spacebound flicks with a lot less to offer than this one, and it certainly doesn't deserve the disdain that comes from being attached to the increasingly worn Cloverfield name.

TL;DR: The Cloverfield Paradox is a loopy sci-fi thriller that does even less to serve Cloverfield fans than the previous entry, but it's still a fun genre riff.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 943
Reviews In This Series
10 Cloverfield Lane (Trachtenberg, 2016)
The Cloverfield Paradox (Onah, 2018)

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