Some spoilers, but not too many
Who’d have thought. The first Cloverfield movie had elaborate marketing campaign months prior to release. The first sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane was released a month after being announced. The Cloverfield Paradox was announced and released on the same evening…so, with Cloverfield 4, does JJ Abrams come to your house and chucks the Blu-ray through the window unannounced?
In fact, the word was out only about three hours before the third movie was available to stream on Netflix, without a doubt capitalizing on an already-half drunk America that had no intention of going off to bed straight after the Super Bowl.
Not only was #CloverfieldParadox trending on Twitter during the Super Bowl, no easy feat by any means, but this strategy also allowed the movie to completely bypass the traditional promotion-and-review system. Nicely played Netflix.
However, you can’t help but wonder why this somewhat unorthodox approach was necessary…and why Paramount sold it to Netflix in the first place.
Now we think we might know – it’s not quite what we were expecting. And while there was some concern it might have many similarities to Life (2017) – the sub-standard, space station sci-fi starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds – that’s not where this film’s faults lay.
The basic premise is that the world is facing a massive energy crisis and the Oil Wars are getting worse each day. It appears to be a contemporary setting and there’s no real reason why this wouldn’t be happening today. Tensions between governments are at an all-time high; the Russians are looking to launch a ground assault on one European neighbour just as the Germans, for example, are looking to take equal advantage of another weaker neighbour. It’s the same in Asia and the same in North America.
In essence, imagine the world if President Trump gets elected for a second term. It’s all well and truly gone to shit.
However, while this madness has been raging on the surface of our poor planet…an elaborate and sizable space station with an international crew has been busy working, for many years, on a sub-atomic, particle accelerating MacGuffin that could solve the world’s energy problems and blanket the planet with love. But, many on Earth speculate that if successful, the Shepard as it’s known, could actually do more harm than good with some scientists even claiming it could open an interdimensional doorway, letting all sorts of nasties in. Think The Mist (2007).
With only enough fuel remaining onboard for two or three more attempts to achieve a successful reaction, tempers are wearing thin – even among these dedicated, professional, highly-trained astronauts – and things are not looking very positive. Then, waddaya know, it works.
Not much seems to happen until they can’t communicate with Earth anymore…and in fact Earth has disappeared from the viewport altogether. Then some strange things start happening and in what looks a scene out of Tetsuo (1989) they discover a woman trapped behind a bulkhead who appears to have been partly fused with the wires, metal and pipes that are normally concealed by wall panels. Then the really weird stuff starts, think Event Horizon (1997).
The crew is made up of L-R Monk (John Ortiz), Tam (Ziyi Zhang), Kiel (David Oyelowo), Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) plus Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), Volkov (Aksel Hennie) and finally Michael (Roger Davies) who remains on Earth.
While the very confused crew attempt to save the life of this poor woman, that’s Jensen, Volkov suffers from a very sci-fi/horror death and he spasms and generally explodes covering everyone with worms. Oh yes.
It turns out that they crossed over to a new, different dimension and the two are struggling to co-exist at the same time, causing some unpleasant overlaps. It is at this point that we meet the real star of the movie – move over Thing Addams and meet Chris O’Dowd’s right arm.
While trying to repair the damage caused when the Cloverfield Station, as it’s called, fired up the Shepard, Mundy’s arm gets absorbed by another wall panel and he loses it. No pain, no blood, no screaming – which makes a change – it’s just like he’s never had it to begin with. All very odd. But…the best bit is when Schmidt spots it making it’s way along one of the station’s corridors sometime later. Honestly, you half expect it to crawl to a computer terminal and type “Kryten in danger. No time to explain, follow me.”
It’s really at this point you realize that this is a very different film to 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was a tense thriller using a very small, simple premise, focussing on the terror of being held captive against your will. It would even work well in theatre, it’s more like Misery (1990) than anything else…and we were glued to the screen from start to finish.
The way Chris O’Dowd handles this whole, unfortunate event is quite funny…and immediately your expectations are lowered. It’s certainly not his fault, but you can’t help but feel he’s been cast for precisely that reason, which is odd.
The still-sentient arm is handed a pen and manages to scrawl a message that helps the crew get home, but not before a continuing series of accidents and self-sacrifices ensure the crew is gradually whittled down to just a few.
Meanwhile, it seems the Earth is under attack from something…something big. The husband of Hamilton, Michael, helpfully provides exposition as he tries to deal with the turmoil unfolding at home. This relationship provides the emotional driving force of the main character as she digs deep to keep going despite seemingly unsurmountable odds. However, the character that’s developed is just a hair’s breadth above the clichéd disaster movie role of Wife on Phone.
We won’t spoil it any more for you, especially the ending…which jars a little. Actually, it’s not the ending per se, it’s more how it’s supposed to fit in with everything else. This movie might have worked well as an episode of something or at the very least, not an entry into the Cloverfield franchise. The performances aren’t bad, it’s just the cast have nothing significant to work with.
You have to hope that Netflix got a really good deal with this, since clearly Paramount realized what a turkey they had…and what Netflix did was turn an almost guaranteed theatrical flop into a must-watch sensation. At least for the immediate 24 or possibly even 48 hours after it’s announcement of availability. Unfortunately what Netflix is still left with is, in essence, a polished turd, which is hardly going to add value to the brand.
That said, if it was all part of a “bail out” for Paramount, then hats off to Netflix for managing to create as much buzz as they did. Because without Netflix, it would’ve been doomed.
But the same can’t be said about Bad Robot. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the team behind the Cloverfield series is simply purchasing films that are already shot or written and re-working them to fit within their “world”, which isn’t very clever at all.
Release: 4 February 2018
Director: Julius Onah
Starring: John Ortiz, Ziyi Zhang, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Roger Davies
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