Surprise release The Cloverfield Paradox teases to point of excess

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The Cloverfield series is a strange beast. Each of its movies — Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox — involved elements of unique marketing and surprise releases. The first film was announced with a surprise trailer before the movie Transformers, including the date “1-18-08” and no title. The trailer was followed by months of viral marketing involving clues, fictional brands and characters’ Myspace pages. 10 Cloverfield Lane had a trailer release some two months before the film came out, with marketing utilizing viral tactics like alternate reality games, consisting of fictional news stories and websites for fake corporations. The newest installment, The Cloverfield Paradox, was announced by a Super Bowl commercial the day of its release, promising Netflix availability immediately following the game.

The allure of the Cloverfield series lies in its mysteriousness. Each of the films involves monsters in some fashion. The latter two entries were converted from pre-existing screenplays into Cloverfield stories, most noticeably in 10 Cloverfield Lane, where aliens come into the story in a tacked-on final sequence. Even though these stories were not originally crafted as Cloverfield films, they are each constructed with hints and references that reveal bits of information about the monsters of the films’ world. This is the hook for The Cloverfield Paradox.

With a script originally titled The God Particle, the newest Cloverfield installment tells of scientists on a space station orbiting the Earth, trying to solve an energy crisis with a particle accelerator. After a title sequence montage of repeatedly firing the accelerator and failing, the team tries one more time, realizing afterward that Earth behind them has disappeared. Strange things begin to befall the station and the scientists discover that they have been transported to an alternate dimension.

The characters are barely worth mentioning. Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Hamilton, with David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd and Ziyi Zhang as accompanying members of the team on the Cloverfield Space Station. The characters in the film are poorly defined, expressed by individual traits without much personality. O’Dowd’s character, Mundy, is the only enjoyable character, yet, entertaining as he is, the film flounders with an uninteresting cast. Even Elizabeth Debicki’s role as the untrustworthy Jensen, looking like Tilda Swinton and joining the crew in an alternate dimension, lacks a compelling drive.

The Cloverfield Paradox fails mostly by being uninteresting. After a strong opening sequence powered by Bear McCreary’s excellent musical score, the film fails to maintain its grip. The opening resembles that of the previous film, cutting suddenly between story shots and white text over a black background, utilizing a beautiful typography of letters extending across the screen. It is an impressively intriguing sequence, yet what follows fails to match up.

Uninteresting characters provide boring motivations. Saving the world is no longer a unique phenomenon in today’s cinematic landscape, necessitating something more to create interest. The characters bicker because they come from different countries, but there is nothing significant about that fact. They are distrustful, but as they are not established characters who the audience wants to empathize with yet, this becomes meaningless as well. There is potential for an interesting plot in the alternate dimension storyline, yet the characters do little more than talk, bicker and die. They are killed off one by one, yet even that is done with predictable and ho-hum delivery.

The Cloverfield franchise is built out of hints, clues, fake-outs and teasers, where the giant monster is mostly seen in the shadow and the grand excitement is in the build-up. Alfred Hitchcock is credited as having once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Buildup to the monster can bring more fear than the monster itself at the end. As evidenced in the “Noodle Incident” of the comic series “Calvin and Hobbes,” repetitive references can build up expectations within the imagination, to the point where it is better for creators to leave the answer to the audience’s minds, lest the big reveal be a letdown.

However, the buildup can only last so long. At a certain point, it is necessary to give up the tease by answering questions or by just giving up the game. There is a reason why fans of Marvel films have gotten fatigued, waiting for overarching villain Thanos to do something beyond smiling and sitting in a chair. The Cloverfield teasing gets to its most tiresome level of boring in The Cloverfield Paradox.

The story does not intrigue and the movie provides few answers. The films are built to be researched by the most devoted of fans, leaving those fans to comb through details, like a barely noticeable line in the sky at the end of Cloverfield or the throwaway shots of fictional food brands. Even so, it is hard to find satisfaction in the information that is revealed with a process as painful and difficult as pulling teeth.

It is entirely possible that Paramount Pictures and Netflix knew the quality of this Cloverfield film before deciding on its marketing. With a sudden streaming release, both companies guaranteed that critics would not have a jump on talking about this film, instead forcing them to review it at the same time as everybody else seeing it. The Cloverfield Paradox was exciting in its potential and was shocking in its sudden marketing. Through surprise, the film’s mediocrity would only get brief attention. For any normal film of The Cloverfield Paradox’s caliber, brief attention would be all that it deserves.