Monday, February 5, 2018

Movie Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

This is an unusually difficult movie to review, because you really can't divorce it from how it was delivered. Well, you can, but let's be honest - half the fun in Paradox came from having it seemingly appear out of nowhere. Announced just hours before it was available, it more or less materialized, like magic. Is that gimmicky? Sure! But both the tone and content lend itself well to cheap gimmick: it's all part of the experience.

At its core, The Cloverfield Paradox is a throwback to campy, B-genre fare. If you go in wanting a serious, frightening exploration of, well, anything, you're going to be disappointed. This movie is bananas. But it knows it's bananas. Hell, the characters realize what's happening is bananas and act accordingly. What matters is the bananas are ripe.

I'm concerned I may have stretched that metaphor a bit too far. Let's back up.

The Cloverfield Paradox is tackling an unenviable task: trying to offer some sort of explanation for the franchise after two movies that went out of their way to hide what's happening. This is made all the more difficult by the fact the first two are, at best, tonally related, and it's extremely difficult to imagine them occupying the same universe or timeline.

This one basically hand-waves that problem by implying it's all taking place in the same MULTIVERSE, and that everything weird happening is (probably) due to scientists breaking space and time. I kind of wonder if they're actually setting their sights a little higher and are trying to imply this is the cause of ALL genre movies. It doesn't take much imagination to picture Godzilla, Poltergeist, the Exorcist... you name it... being set into motion by what happened here. Maybe I'm reading too far in, though.

Regardless, there's very little meat to the "meta" aspects. There is an explanation given, but they don't bother showing their work. Ultimately, the movie just sort of shrugs and lets you know the monsters and aliens in the last two movies were because of multiversal shenanigans. Then it moves on without offering details.

Thank God particles: exposition was the last thing this movie needed. I'm far happier with what we get instead, a bizarre SF/horror/adventure that tosses one weird thing after another at the protagonists. Most of what they run up against ties into string theory, multiple Earth theory, and quantum mechanics in general, but only superficially. All that's an excuse for a bunch of weirdness, most of which doesn't make much sense and never gets explained.

But this movie - hell, this franchise - is at its best when nothing makes sense. The last fifteen minutes of 10 Cloverfield Lane were my favorite part of that movie (fight me!), and Paradox feels like it taps into that spirit.

This is a ridiculous B-movie; and Netflix dropping it with minimal warning highlights the sense it's 2018's version of a late-night drive-in or a movie you'd never heard of before catching it at midnight on cable. It's a movie best watched with friends, and it's clearly meant to be laughed with and at. At multiple points, the movie utterly abandons any semblance of reason. But it never pretends otherwise, and it makes sure you get something much more fun.

This isn't making anyone's best of year lists, but it's far, far better than it has any right to be. And as long as they're this much fun, I'm game for any number of future installments.

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