The Cloverfield Paradox

When is a movie actually two movies? When it’s The Cloverfield Paradox. The third part of the (current) Cloverfield trilogy had an even bigger challenge than its predecessor, needing to live up the legacy of two great movies instead of just one. Instead of going down the “spiritual successor” path, it opted to be a semi-sequel to both, placing all 3 films in a semi-shared universe which is a lot less complicated than it sounds. However, this isn’t where the issue lies, instead it comes with the focus of the plot which comes in two parts. Primarily it follows Ava Hamilton and her crew aboard the Cloverfield Space Station who are testing the Shepard Particle Accelerator to find a source of infinite energy for the Earth which is rapidly running out. Things go horribly wrong when they find themselves catapulted across dimensions to an alternate Earth, which is where the semi-sequel aspect comes in. It causes a rip in dimensions causing what is known as the “Cloverfield Paradox” which opens portals to other dimensions allowing unknown horrors to seep through. Essentially, it gives birth to the Cloverfield Multiverse. It’s an interesting enough story on its own but the secondary plot sees Ava’s husband Michael attempting to survive the carnage back home with a small child in tow.

This decision makes sense in theory. It should allow for more concern for Ava and what awaits her should she get home, but it doesn’t pack the impact it needs to. This is partially because not enough time is dedicated to the secondary plot and the little time that is spent with it doesn’t delve as deep into the monstrous destruction as it needs to. It’s also partially because the primary plot isn’t entirely focused on Ava’s return home. It’s the ultimate goal of her and her crew but they spend most of their time focused on surviving increasingly weird and horrific events aboard the station. The Cloverfield Paradox is trying to be a horror space sci-fi and a re-tread of the original Cloverfield, but it spends an unproportionate amount of time on both meaning that neither feel complete. This is likely due to it not originally being a Cloverfield script. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, the project started life as a spec script but unlike that film, The Cloverfield Paradox feels like it’s cramming that IP’s elements in. The former merged it with the script to add a layer of suspense but barely focused on it whilst the latter made it its own point of focus. This plot element didn’t need to be cut but it needed to at least be refined. Perhaps have the Cloverfield Paradox affecting the alternate Earth before jumping back to their own hoping to escape. The reveal in the film’s final moments is tense but mainly due to actor Roger Davies’ performance as Michael instead of the moment feeling earned.

The primary plot aboard the space station is interesting on paper too, yet somehow lacks punch in its delivery. The dynamic between the crew isn’t as solid as a film like Alien, even when it tries to be, because these are standard characters with very little development. They should be the priority and the plot should revolve around how this disaster tests their relationships, which are already tense having lived in a confined space for two years. Instead, the plot treats them as side characters with much of the time on the station being spent with Ava. Eight members is a lot to juggle even when there isn’t an entire secondary story. Alien capped its crew at seven and spent more time with them in the opening act before the attack so that the eventual murders would be impactful. It feels like The Cloverfield Paradox was trying to replicate that but never focusses on the correct aspects.

The word “focus” has been used a lot in this review and, whilst repetition should be avoided where possible, it feels fitting because this film lacks focus. It can’t pick a plot, character or twist to maintain for overly long which simply isn’t an issue had by its predecessors. Those films work, in part, because the aim to tell one sole narrative with a small cast of characters. Cloverfield had 6 friends travelling through a deteriorating New York City to save another friend whilst 10 Cloverfield Lane spent its time with 3 characters in one location with two trying to escape to a world they aren’t even sure is there. The Cloverfield Paradox pits 8 characters against a space station that could collapse at any moment and anomalies that may do worse than kill them while also depicting life on Earth through 2 more characters. There is plenty here that could work if it was given a bigger role but as is, it’s a mediocre display of all these aspects with another stunning Bear Macreary score.

Perhaps the real monster is the Hollywood demand for sequels regardless of quality.

Signed: Your spooky neighbourhood queer

Cloverfield

When is a monster movie not a monster movie? When it’s Cloverfield. Yes, there’s a monster in it but it’s a more a catalyst for the plot than an actual antagonist. The film isn’t about the creature, it’s about the several lives being destroyed by it’s arrival. This is in stark contrast to something like A Quiet Place, where the protagonists are actively fending off their monsters but that’s only part of why Cloverfield works so well. It has become an icon of the horror genre, with producer J.J. Abrams being asked about the posibility of a sequel for almost a decade after it’s release. Eventually that sequel would come (sort of) and there would even be a threequel (sort of, we’ll get to that). Even now, the Cloverfield brand lives on, with a fourth installment reportedly in early development.

Even after a decade and the technological advancements that came with it, the simple story of Cloverfield remains tense to sit through. It follows a group of friends through the rapidly crumbling city of Manhattan as they attempt to reach a love interest trapped in her apartment that they can’t even garuntee is still alive. Tension builds through how unpredictable the stability of their surroundings areas are as well as how little is shown on screen. It makes excellent use of the found-footage style of filmmaking, proving the age-old adage that less is more. There are scenes where the monster is seen in it’s entirity but it spends the majority of the plot hidden behind buildings or smoke from debris. The biggest threat is the dog-sized parasites that fall from it’s body and lurk around possibly every corner that our protagonists may walk around. The creature designs are a little more basic than something from H.R. Gieger but they’re still memorable enough. The closest look that is given makes it clear that these creatures are more than a little bit gross, in a shot that stands out as one of the most memorable in the entire franchise.

The characters all feel realistic. None of them are the “hero” of the story, even though primary heartthrob Rob is presented that way. Even before the creature attacks, it’s clear that they lead messy lives. Jason and Lily argue like many couples but, although they may seem frustrated with each other, there is still obviously love there. Hud the cameraman and Marlene who wasn’t even meant to be at the party slowly form a bond over the course of the plot despite him being annoying and her being out of his league. Rob the “hero” is the one determined to save his love interest Beth but, having recently slept with her and not called her back, it feels like it’s primarily motivated out of guilt. Real life, much like this iteration of Manhattan, is messy and Cloverfield never shies away from that.

The cherry on top is the lack of score. There’s a Cloverfield Overture that plays through the credits and continues to keep the audience unsettled even after the plot is over, but the entire film has purely diagetic sound. Aside from making sense, given that this is supposed to be a tape found in Central Park, it allows the sound of silence to echo from the screen. There’s no jumpscare sound effects or quivering violins, the film has to scare with atmosphere alone. Even as the story races towards its conclusion and the action amps up, it never feels like a work of pure fiction. If a creature were to land in the middle of one of the most populated areas in the United States, this is likely how it would go down.

Providing visuals for a hypothetical attack is perhaps the most unnerving part of all.

Signed: Your spooky neighbourhood queer

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

In 1977, George Lucas brought Star Wars to the unsuspecting masses. He feared that nobody would like it, but was proven to be totally wrong. Now here we are, 43 years and 9 mainline films later, with his saga finally at a close. For many, that closure wasn’t what they had hoped for, with some swearing off the franchise altogether. There are stories of a troubled production and studio meddling but, for now, I’m leaving that aside and taking a look at the film we were given- Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

We follow Rey, Poe, Finn, and the rest of The Resistance as they grapple with the return of an ancient enemy in the form of Emperor Palpatine. Our heroic trio, alongside C-3PO and BB-8, set out on a quest to find the last Sith Wayfinder- a device that tells the location of the secret Sith planet of Exegol, where Palpatine and his armada await. Meanwhile Kylo Ren has regrouped with the Knights of Ren to hunt down Rey and convince her to turn to the darkside of the Force. Our plot, in essence, is a “fetch quest” with an added side of a cat-and-mouse chase. A lot of people have taken issue with this, stating that it doesn’t feel like Star Wars and that it all but destroys the character arcs of our main heroes. Personally, I disagree with this take as it’s the first time we’ve seen our main cast interact with each other and how their relationships work. Furthermore, I don’t seem to recall any complaints that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a fetch quest- which is a story element that I have always enjoyed, regardless of where it is used. This is also, I think, the funniest that C-3PO has ever been, riffing off the other characters who he has clearly bonded with, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only source of humour. Finn and Poe have a wonderful dynamic where they bounce off each other like the oldest of friends, leading to the odd chuckle.

There’s a lot of sentimentality and nostalgia at play here, which is to be expected from a franchise-ending film. Carrie Fisher returns through the use of recycled scenes and audio, Mark Hamill is here as a force ghost, Billy Dee Williams slips back into the role of Lando with ease and even Harrison Ford makes one last hurrah as the galaxy’s best loved smuggler. On top of this is the aforementioned return of Ian McDiarmid as the delightfully insane Sheev Palpatine but, for me, the films best moment comes during the climactic battle. Drained off life-force and on the verge of death, Rey calls out to the Jedi of old to give her one last push. When the voices respond, they consist of not only characters from the mainline instalments but also from the animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels. These shows have always been canon but this finally makes them canon within the film series itself in a feat that not even Marvel has managed to pull off.

Once again, the background components are all wonderful. The score is as fantastical as it has always been, with an ethereal chorus thrown in for good measure. Perhaps its best moments are when it chooses to be truly triumphant and full of hope. Conductor John Williams even manages to sneak in an on-screen cameo this time round as a barman. The cinematography is staggering in places, with the scenes on Exegol being massive in scale. It shows the return of the Sith physically looming over any character in the frame and adds a sense of dread. The set-pieces on the planet of Passana are the most colourful that I remember seeing in any instalment, providing the briefest moment of levity. Between sets, costumes, props, lighting and sound design this film is spectacular. This has been consistent throughout the entire saga and without them, they simply wouldn’t exist.

With that, we have reached the moment I’ve been dreading since walking out of the cinema on December 16th 2019- discussing the movie’s flaws. The backlash that The Last Jedi received pales in comparison to that of The Rise of Skywalker and I will not triple the length of this review by discussing every single issue that people had. I am of the opinion that at least half of these criticisms, if not a little more, are trivial and that there are only a few truly valid ones. Whilst on the moon of Endor, we meet a former stormtrooper named Jannah who rebelled against the First Order alongside her entire squadron. Until this point, Finn has been one of a handful over the course of the entire franchise to do this, so having an entire squadron completely invalidates that. I’m sure that it was done with the intention of giving Finn a sense of belonging and a family but he already has that with The Resistance. There is also a distressing lack of General Hux who, until now, has been going through his own interesting little arc. Even when the film does make use of him, it doesn’t further his arc in any way and they destroy any chance of seeing that arc completed by killing him in the least satisfying way. Lastly, we are informed that Rey is the grandchild of Emperor Palpatine, in a twist that I personally am ok with. It does, however, leave us with the question of who Rey’s grandmother is. Of course I am aware that the novelisation and original script explain this away, but going only on what the film tells us, Palpatine did the nasty. Ew.

It is no secret that The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be, at least, 20 minutes longer and that had it been the length envisioned by JJ Abrams, it would have explained away a vast amount of the complaints. It is my hope that, one day, we will know exactly what happened to this film and that, if we are very lucky, we might see that version of it. The few issues that I have with this film do not obliterate my enjoyment of it and, as endings go, I find it to be a fun watch. At the end of the day, it’s Star Wars. Fans will either come to appreciate it for that or they’ll forget about it and move on. This feud is only for now, but Star Wars lives in our hearts forever.

May the force be with you…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer