Mystery and misdirection have pretty much always been a core part of the Cloverfield franchise, and in the first two films, that worked to the overarching plot’s advantage. But there are a lot of things about surprise Netflix drop The Cloverfield Paradox that, frankly, were narratively confusing and messy to an almost unbearable degree. Executive producer J.J. Abrams has tried to explain but... we’re not sure he’s helping.
When introducing concepts like time travel and alternate dimensions, filmmakers have to be careful about just how “out there” to get; it’s easy to lose audiences with the convoluted twists and turns that can sometimes come about. That’s very much the case with The Cloverfield Paradox—a movie in which a group of engineers aboard the Cloverfield Space Station accidentally travel through time and space into an alternate dimension that’s similar to their own, save for the fact that it’s been plunged into a global conflict due to a shortage of resources.
The film’s connection to the previous Cloverfield installments is tenuous at best—until it’s hinted that the Cloverfield station’s interdimensional journey might have torn a hole between the dimensions, allowing for creatures similar to the original Cloverfield monster to arrive on Earth to wreak havoc. In the movie’s final scene, as the surviving members of the station make their way back to Earth, there’s a clear shot of a monster that looks nearly identical to the one seen in the original Cloverfield, though it’s much, much larger. It’s also unclear specifically where it came from.
In a recent interview with Empire, director Julius Onah and Abrams attempted to parse out the meaning of that final scene and contextualize it within the grander Cloverfield franchise. While the duo confirmed that The Cloverfield Paradox’s monster is, in fact, the same one from the first movie—“maybe it’s been eating its Wheaties”—their explanation of the film’s time and inter-dimensional travels really only makes the movie more difficult to understand at best and like an ill-conceived idea at worst. Said Abrams:
“Now that we’ve had these multiple timelines have been opened and things are happening dimensionally, there’s many different ways for these things to play out. So there was a real fine connection to make with things dropping into the ocean that you see in the movie when they first realize they’ve landed in this other dimension. There’s still more possibilities that will come with more strands of the story.
It felt like a bit of an opportunity that was too good to pass up and kind of a catch all. On the one hand you can say ‘well then anything anywhere could be a Cloverfield movie,’ but the intention has never been take a movie and then slap Cloverfield on it.”
But that’s exactly what The Cloverfield Paradox is—a movie with the Cloverfield brand slapped on it and few half-hearted attempts at making it seem as if it’s interconnected with the other two projects. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it could’ve used a little more work to make it fit a bit more sensibly.
Abrams is no stranger to building out a complicated and twisty mythos, where part of the fun is trying to piece together just how everything fits into a larger story. But there’s a marked difference between building out an intricate mystery and simply throwing things at the wall—and then trying to say that whatever random, perplexing stuff stuck was intentional all along.
From the sounds of it, both Abrams and Onah knew that The Cloverfield Paradox could have used some more refinement. But hey, why do that if Netflix is down to buy the film and make it profitable for Paramount?