You can forgive yourself for losing patience with J.J. Abrams’ ever burgeoning Cloverfield universe, with 10 years separating the present day and the original Kaiju shakycam surprise hit, and the tenuous links to that film being the weakest part of last year’s taut and effective character driven kidnap thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane. The Cloverfield Paradox, the new chapter in the franchise, which was, at least somewhat ceremoniously (Super Bowl commercials ain’t cheap, ya know) dumped onto Netflix last week, now claims to reveal the true origins of the series’ famed giant monsters. Or does it just shoehorn them into a largely unremarkable Alien-alike? Yeah, probably…
Originally developed as a wholly unrelated project by the much cooler name of “God Particle” (seriously, just let that roll off the tongue… “God Particle”… somebody name their spacey, operatic prog metal band this immediately), just as 10 Cloverfield Lane began life as the 100% original “The Cellar”, upon firing up The Cloverfield Paradox you’ll immediately think you know what to expect. Okay, this is “one of the these”, a doomed group on a space station with some vague practical mission (using a particle accelerator to somehow cure a war torn earth’s myriad of energy crises, and there, I’ve just spent more time explaining it than the film actually does), things go pear shaped (alternate universes, or something) and the crew gets picked off one by one, either by threats from within or without.
TCP does have a few wrinkles that elevate it beyond your typical SyFy Channel Alien Rip-off of the week though. Ringers like Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd and Elizabeth Debicki of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 turn in (without spoiling anything) great performances. TCP’s most pleasant surprise though is how unapologetically squirm inducing it can be, with both Carpenter and Cronenberg-esque body horror, blackly comic mayhem in the vein of Re-Animator or Evil Dead 2, and even some very clever space and physics based deaths. The whole affair seems a bit slow paced though, showing more than telling but still having the various mechanics of its jumpy plot lines and explanations barely slot together with any sense of flow or urgency. This is happening now? Okay. No this is why it’s happening. Sure! Hey here’s a cool set piece. Alright. It doesn’t suck but it’s hardly appointment viewing for anyone but the most dedicated of Abrams apologists.
So unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was a great movie slightly tied down by its franchise obligations, The Cloverfield Paradox is an okay movie that’s world building aspirations are neither here nor there, and will only further confound those looking for real answers to the questions still left dangling by the 2008 original. With Director Matt Reeves still reportedly handling WB’s solo Batman effort, and Abrams, of course, being called back to a galaxy far, far away for Episode IX, it’ll probably be a long time, if ever, before anything with the Cloverfield name haphazardly slapped on it is the droid that fans are actually looking for.