Widescreen: Discovering 'Cloverfield Paradox' was exciting -- but then you watch it
Everything about the surprise release of "The Cloverfield Paradox" was thrilling. A Netflix commercial that aired during Sunday's Super Bowl announced the latest installment in the J.J. Abrams-produced sci-fi anthology film series and promised it would be streaming "very soon" -- as in, immediately after the game.
Here's a surprise "Cloverfield" movie! You can watch it tonight! It has a diverse, accomplished cast that includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("San Junipero"), Daniel Bruhl ("The Alienist"), David Oyelowo ("Selma") and Elizabeth Debicki ("Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2")! It's connected to the very first film in the series, that found-footage monster movie from 2008! Unless you read The Hollywood Reporter, you didn't even know there was a third "Cloverfield" movie in the pipeline -- and here it is!
And then you watch the movie, and the excitement is over.
Directed by newcomer Julius Onah from a script by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung ("Star Trek Beyond"), "The Cloverfield Paradox" begins promisingly with astronaut Ava Hamilton (Mbatha-Raw) leaving her family behind to join an outer-space experiment aimed at solving an energy crisis with a particle accelerator. Cinematographer Dan Mindel ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens") gives us a beautiful shot of Ava cradled in a spherical window of a space station as a video of her children is projected behind her. Composer Bear McCreary ("The Walking Dead") ratchets up the tension in an opening-title sequence that introduces us to Hamilton's fellow crew members. The tone is set for a fun, thrilling space romp when we learn that the particle accelerator has the capability of opening a rift between two dimensions and letting whatever's in that other dimension into our own.
What we get is 100 minutes of people shouting nonsense at each other, disjointed scenes that seem to forget the ones that came before it, and lots of obvious, expository dialogue that feels tacked on to force Uziel's original, stand-alone script ("God Particle") into Abrams' "Cloverfield" franchise.
Whatever creepy delights there are -- like one crew member's "Alien"-esque demise, and the most animated severed limb since "Evil Dead 2" -- are undercut by a screenplay that seems to ignore its own internal logic. (Why did those worms end up where they did? And furthermore, why were there worms in the first place?!)
The original "Cloverfield," with its street-level depiction of a giant monster attacking New York, was genuinely scary and genuinely innovative. 2016's "10 Cloverfield Lane," in which Mary Elizabeth Winstead is held captive in a doomsday shelter by John Goodman, worked as a tense thriller and a character piece. But this? This is a bad two-part "Doctor Who" bottle episode with too many characters.
And that's a real shame, considering the talent involved and the film's unique release strategy. Dropping a franchise movie in our laps on Super Bowl Sunday is exciting amid years and years of hype and buildup for things like "Avengers: Infinity War" and the eighth season of "Game of Thrones." I'd like to have that experience again. I just hope it's a good movie next time.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor who thinks J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" deserves a better reputation. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.