Each episode in the Cloverfield film series has had an amazing viral marketing campaign behind it. The original and first Cloverfield (2008) sent the masses heads spinning through the previews, which highlighted the Statue of Liberty’s face bouncing down a New York street, and so began some truly rampant rumors. Was Cloverfield actually a Godzilla film? Were the giant aliens invading Earth the first wave before even larger aliens would show up in a second wave (or a sequel)? And on and on the presumptions and questions went until the film debuted. In 2018, on Superbowl Sunday, a full decade later, Netflix used an equally effective campaign to lure viewers to the third episode in the franchise: Cloverfield Paradox. The campaign boasted that it would explain the origins of the invaders in the first film. Taking such a boast in the same curious manner as the rest of planet Earth, we sat down to revisit and review each Cloverfield film. Here’s what you need to know.
The initial episode introduced its audiences to a new way of making found footage films. Everyone was familiar with the likes of the Blair Witch Project as well as the onslaught of cheap copies that would follow (Paranormal Activity, Houses that October Built, to name a few). But the found footage genre hadn’t cracked sci-fi territory. Cloverfield also established a clever theme by showing that the name of the project being explored in the found footage was called Cloverfield. This trend would continue in the following films and give the Bad Robot studio excuses to take films outside the franchise, add alien scenes through reshoots, and label one item in each film with Cloverfield so that they played out more like Twilight Zone episodes rather than as interlocking, expanding sequels in a trilogy.
Still, Cloverfield divided audiences. The witty banter about the common knowledge of Superman and Heathcliff between Hudson (Silicon Valley‘s T.J. Miller) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) as well as the frantic run from the tinier aliens that are seen falling off the huge, primary attacking alien satisfied half the viewers. The other half were disappointed, and rightfully so, that the film only showed the huge alien once or twice from the very limited viewpoint of Hudson’s camera. The scene at the end finally shows the face of the giant alien but it’s too little, too late and comes across as a moment of “look, we didn’t have the budget so this is what you get”. The inability of the film to show the giant alien menace that is clearly winning its fight against Earth, the fact that the secondary characters of Hudson and Marlena are far more personable and interesting than the main characters, but the tense moments in between, such as the Statue of Liberty exploding and, again, the tiny, chomper aliens that cause victims heads to explode, combine to make an adequate entry into the franchise.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Bad Robot could have continued the trend of the first entry and kicked off the second episode of Cloverfield with military personnel watching another found footage cassette. But they didn’t and this is by far the best film in the Cloverfield series. What’s even more surprising is that this film was not originally made to be part of this franchise. But the script, acting, and tense development of the strangers trapped in a basement because the air outside may or may not be toxic to humans is brilliant. Since nobody would have watched this – the biggest star is John Goodman – Bad Robot did some reshoots and changed the address of the home so that the Cloverfield tag would draw in viewers.
Michelle (Fargo season 3’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Howard (John Goodman) build up the tenacity of close quarters paranoia so well that even simple things, like Howard shaving before dinner, are terrifying. The last 10 minutes disappointed most but the finale, in hindsight, was both foolish and necessary. It’s foolish in the sense that the possible alien threat is completely secondary to the superior plot of whether Howard is nuts or not. Yet it’s arguably necessary so that the audience and fans can realize that this episode isn’t in the same reality and has nothing to do with 2008’s Cloverfield. The end result is a thrilling ride through 95 minutes of perfect film making before 10 minutes of completely unnecessary and over the top reshoots. Can you excuse 10 horrible minutes in exchange for 95 great minutes? Yes. This film is truly unique despite the finale.
Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
The momentum from 10 Cloverfield Lane sent everyone to Netflix to watch the third entry, where a satellite geared to create limitless energy is called the Cloverfield. If the use of the Cloverfield name were the only thing tying this film to this bizarrely entertaining universe, then we could have just expected a tv stylized series to continue such varied episodes. Unfortunately, Cloverfield Paradox is simply a terrible film. Similar to how 2008’s Cloverfield stole horror’s found footage gimmick, but added some refreshing elements, so does 2018’s Cloverfield Paradox steal horror’s plot of The Mist. However, this film adds nothing new to the Stephen King equation. There’s also a scene ripped directly from every film in the Alien franchise where the crew argues about opening a hatch to let something in – the hatch has screams coming from behind it. We all know not to open it but they do – of course they do. This is followed by a crew member looking in the mirror to weird results, which we’ve also seen in much better films like Poltergeist and, to ultimate comedic effects, in True Romance. Every single scene in Cloverfield Paradox is ripped from a better movie and the result of this mashed up wannabe is a frustratingly boring and forgetful entry that aligns it closer to the Scary Movie franchise than the Cloverfield franchise.
It’s absent of any tense moments. It’s absent of any compelling sub-plots to keep the viewer watching. Then, suddenly at the end, an alien pops its head out from the clouds. This is the worst “too little, too late” plea for relevance we may have ever seen in cinema. And the “big reveal” being that this satellite opened portals to other dimensions doesn’t satisfy any item in the Cloverfield universe. The second episode already revealed different realities and settings. Why should anyone care that this latest installment returns to that minor theme and over explains it for more than two hours?
Forget this one was made.
Cloverfield (2008): an adequate film that provides enough tense moments to get by.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): the best film in the series. If you only watch one, watch this! It’s truly unique and, despite the final 10 minutes, delivers on every front.
Cloverfield Paradox (2018): it’s so unoriginal, lame, and nonsensical that you are far better off pretending that it wasn’t released. Remember when Days of Future Past erased X-Men: United from existence? This should also be erased from memory.