It's a strange, unpredictable time for movies. A lot of changes are happening very quickly, and perhaps no film embodies them better than The Cloverfield Paradox.
It was only a month or two ago that Paramount scuttled plans for The Cloverfield Paradox's theatrical release, choosing instead to sell the film to Netflix. And yesterday afternoon, during the Super Bowl, Netflix not only showed 100 million people an ad for the movie, they then let their subscribers watch it—surprise!—pretty much immediately.
That wasn't just a brilliant publicity stunt—it also proved how nimble Netflix can be compared to traditional film distributors. While The Hollywood Reporter called Netflix's move "a potential landscape-changing challenge to broadcast TV's traditional model," they were also quick to tear apart the film and Netflix's handling of it: "It comes to this," wrote John DeFore. "Movies treated like high-profile advertisements, slotted into post-Super Bowl premieres as if they're ads for corn chips or high-fructose sodas."
Still, the question most
moviegoers Netflix subscribers have is: So is The Cloverfield Paradox any good?
The short answer is, uh, no, it's not, and I say that as someone who pretty much likes anything with Cloverfield in the title. The Cloverfield Paradox is, for the most part, set on a spaceship, and... the rest is kind of unclear? The ship's crew, in order to save Earth from an energy crisis, is doing... something... with some kind of... technological... space ray that will... get Earth more energy? Maybe from an... alternate dimension???
Except they keep failing, but then they succeed! But shit, not really, because of course EVERYTHING GOES WRONG. One character warns of the the possibility of "shattering reality," declaring that the space ray (or whatever) will "unleash chaos the likes of which have never been seen! Monsters! Demons! Beasts from the sea!"
The previous Cloverfield movies indicated that producer J.J. Abrams & Co. were building a loosely connected, Twilight Zone-style genre anthology. The Cloverfield Paradox shows how that plan went astray.
Monsters? Demons? Beasts from the sea? That sounds GREAT. Alas, it's quickly apparent why Paramount decided not to theatrically release The Cloverfield Paradox: Particularly in its opening scenes, it's an awkward, poorly edited, exposition-dumping mess. It's also quickly apparent why Netflix snatched up the film: Over the past year or so, the streaming service has leaned hard into quantity over quality; while they've released some excellent stuff, they've also turned their service into a dumping ground for the kind of forgettable, mediocre junk that used to go straight to video.
And that, unfortunately, is what The Cloverfield Paradox feels like. It's a far cry from 2008's fun, inventive Cloverfield and 2016's smart, intense 10 Cloverfield Lane. That's despite a great cast (Daniel Brühl! Elizabeth Debicki! David Oyelowo! Ziyi Zhang! John Ortiz! Chris O'Dowd!), and despite some sharp jolts of dry humor and squicky body horror. (Two of the notes I made while watching the film were "EYES AREN'T SUPPOSED TO DO THAT :(" and "ARMS AREN'T SUPPOSED TO DO THAT :D".)
The previous Cloverfield movies indicated that producer J.J. Abrams & Co. were building a loosely connected, Twilight Zone-style genre anthology. The Cloverfield Paradox shows how that plan went astray. While the first two Cloverfields ably executed strong, fresh concepts, The Cloverfield Paradox has about a billion concepts, and none are terribly original. Ramshackle and clunky, The Cloverfield Paradox has the lurching feeling of a movie that's been edited and re-edited so many times that it's whittled away its identity.
The unexpected release of The Cloverfield Paradox comes at a time when theatrical attendance is falling, making theaters and distributors increasingly reliant on reliable, generic franchises. (Case in point: Even a new Cloverfield movie is no longer a sure enough bet to justify a theatrical release.) With Disney consuming Fox, Hollywood's facing a significant reduction of the number of studios—and a significant reduction of film variety. And while streaming services like Netflix are picking up some of the slack, they're also cranking out a lot of garbage. Throw in the skyrocketing popularity of MoviePass—which offers consumers an amazing deal on movie tickets, so long as they're willing to ignore the company's shady tactics and sketchy intentions—and you've got an industry, and an art form, that's basically having a meltdown.
Even diehard film fanatics like Matt Zoller Seitz get funereal when discussing movies in 2018. "We are probably at a point where we need to just acknowledge that theatrical exhibition as we used to know it is a dying form, on Star Wars/superhero/occasional surprise hit life support," Seitz tweeted last month. "The industry is moving on. The public moved on long ago. It's awful."
The Cloverfield Paradox was once intended to be a big-screen, wide-release sci-fi blockbuster; instead, it ended up, as The Hollywood Reporter noted, as a product advertised during a football game and delivered immediately afterward so viewers don't even need to leave the couch. Maybe it doesn't even matter if The Cloverfield Paradox is any good. "They don’t need us to like Bright," wrote Scott Mendelson about Netflix's big-budget fantasy. "They just need us to watch it."
It's a strange, unpredictable time for movies. A lot of changes are happening very quickly, and perhaps no film embodies them better than The Cloverfield Paradox. As for whether those changes are for better or worse, I guess we'll find out soon enough.