This is not how I expected tonight to end.
I started off tonight bouncing around social media just before the start of the Super Bowl. To be honest, I was looking to see what kind of ads we’d see during the game. That’s where I first learned that there might be a surprise announcement about the next Cloverfield movie. And sure enough, less than an hour into the game came word that the true-and-actual sequel to Cloverfield was both finished, and being released to the world via Netflix that very night! Unheard of for what would surely be considered a major motion picture!
The original movie came out in 2008, and I’ll admit that I was just as intrigued by the marketing tactics as I was by the movie itself. The “found footage” genre was starting to get a little tired, but somehow, Abrams and director Matt Reeves revitalized it, giving Cloverfield a near-constant feeling of unrest throughout. The next movie in the “Cloverfield universe”, 10 Cloverfield Lane, didn’t exactly keep you on the edge of your seat in quite the same way, but rather shocked viewers by leaping from one established genre to another, letting you know well into the third act that yes, this is indeed related to Cloverfield.
The Cloverfield Paradox brings back a lot of tension, although perhaps not as evenly through the movie. There were jump scares, to be sure, with good and lengthy lead-ins to provide maximum payoff. And the scientific nature of this story required a good deal more exposition, particularly because I doubt the average moviegoer is familiar enough with particle accelerators as they might like to be in this case. Though I still doubt the plausibility of the movie’s premise, I was more than happy to go along for the ride.
But what moved me the most in Paradox was the story of Ava Hamilton. She is the only character we see from start to finish, and you could easily interpret the story as being told largely through her eyes. She is smart, compassionate, and vulnerable, and like any good lead, has a bit of a tragic backstory that you just know is going to cause problems further down the road. It’s no exaggeration when I say that her story is absolutely the heart of this movie. Without it, this would just be another sci-fi movie—granted, one that picked up where its prequel started ten years ago!—but not nearly as special as this turned out to be. Suffice to say that I was not prepared to shed the tears I shed near the end.
It’s also worth mentioning that this cast is very deliberately diverse, in terms of both race and gender. Ava, our heroine, is a black woman from the U.K. The crew members are unsurprisingly representative of multiple countries—Russian, Asian, Middle Eastern, American—and nearly equally balanced between male and female. And while it’s not all hearts and flowers up there in space, each character brings equal weight to the story. Each is a valued member of the team, and each has a part to play in the emotional dynamic. This is an ensemble case, in the truest sense of the word. It does seem to be a bit of a rarity still, but for me, it felt natural rather than forced. The characters worked against established stereotypes, which is something I really enjoyed. Well done, all.
Out of respect and love for J.J. Abrams and his almost manic devotion to secrecy, I’m not going to recap all the events of this movie. There are moments that are disgusting, moments that are quietly unsettling, moments that made me jump, and moments that made me think. In short, nearly everything I ever want in a movie. Add to that my affection for longform storytelling—it’s part of what makes me love the Star Wars movies so much—and I am very content indeed. Plus, as a semi-casual movie reviewer, I have never once had the opportunity to review a movie within hours of its release! Usually that’s reserved for those in-the-know writers based in Los Angeles or New York City. But thanks to Abrams’ surprise Netflix release, here I am! I will say that there were a few beats in the story that I did anticipate not too soon before they happened, including what is surely a setup for the next film in the series. But I would not go so far as to call this movie “predictable”. Yes, the Cloverfield saga has a bit of a formula (or is it Abrams who does?) but it’s a formula I highly enjoy.
Which leaves me wondering…how on earth will they surprise us next? Well, we won’t need to wait ten more years; rumor has it that Cloverfield 4 has already wrapped. The release date has not been released.
The Cloverfield Paradox is now streaming on Netflix.