This image released by Netflix shows Elizabeth Debicki in a scene from "The Cloverfield Paradox."

This image released by Netflix shows Elizabeth Debicki in a scene from "The Cloverfield Paradox."

Scott Garfield/Netflix via AP

Netflix made waves (and history) during the Super Bowl by running an ad for The Cloverfield Paradox, a film that previously had no marketing whatsoever. It would be available to watch immediately following the game.

This was a surprise but not necessarily a shock. The Cloverfield movies have a history of outside-the-box promotion, and if it was going to happen with any "big" film, it would be this one. 

Unfortunately, the film is the weakest (and so far, worst reviewed) of the three Cloverfield movies, and its trailer's promise to seemingly tie everything together and explain the mysteries of the first film falls flat. Watching The Cloverfield Paradox is not a terrible way to spend your time if you've already got a Netflix subscription, but it fails to be more than an average sci-fi thriller -- and that's after you get over some fairly big plot holes.

The upside? Cloverfield is much bigger than just one movie, and there is plenty of reason to be excited about where the franchise can go from here. (Good thing, too, since the rumored fourth Cloverfield film could land as soon as October.)

What is the 'Cloverfield' series, anyway?

The original Cloverfield, released and set in 2008, was a found footage monster movie back when found footage movies were still kind of novel. It followed a group of young New Yorkers as their night of partying turns into a night struggling for survival as something big and mysterious rips the city apart.

10 Cloverfield Lane, released in 2016, is a more quiet, smaller-scope psychological thriller. In it, a young woman wakes up after a car crash to find she has been imprisoned in a stranger's underground shelter -- though he swears it's for her protection, as disaster has left the surface uninhabitable.

The Cloverfield Paradox, released in 2018 and set in 2028, is a more generic sci-fi horror film that takes place primarily on a space station on which an experiment has gone wrong.

So what ties them all together? Hardly anything. They're all produced by J.J. Abrams, they all have small connected Easter eggs (such as the fictional drink Slusho and a company called Tagruato), and they all tie loosely into the same Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that serves both as a marketing tool and as a fun distraction for the series' biggest fans.

Without spoiling much, The Cloverfield Paradox does, in fact, explain certain things about the other Cloverfield movies, but not in a very satisfying way. Paradox does not make its predecessors better -- but it also doesn't drag them down.

So what is a 'Cloverfield' movie, really?

The best way to think of this franchise might be to see each movie as something like a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone. They're weird, they've got sci-fi stuff going on, they might have monsters and, so far, they're self-contained.

Instant release: It's easier than ever to avoid the movie theater

It's important to note that both Cloverfield sequels didn't begin their lives as Cloverfield sequels at all. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a spec script called The Cellar. Before it was released, The Cloverfield Paradox was called God Particle, and even the film's cast were not aware that it was (or would become) a Cloverfield movie while shooting it.

In fact, alleged reports from test screenings of God Particle indicate that a full version of the movie once existed with zero connections to the Cloverfield franchise at all -- though, apparently, that didn't make for a better movie.

Abrams specifically called 10 Cloverfield Lane a "blood relative" of Cloverfield, rather than Cloverfield 2. So why slap the Cloverfield name on these other movies? The obvious answer is marketing. (Cynically you could call this a "cash grab.") 

Another answer is that Cloverfield could be an excuse for Abrams and his production company, Bad Robot, to cultivate up-and-coming talent. Prior to 10 Cloverfield Lane, for example, director Dan Trachtenberg was most well-known for a 2011 fan film based on the video game Portal. A risky spec script brought to life by an unproven director isn't something studios often love to throw money at, but attach it to something with a cult following and suddenly it garners more attention.

And then there's just the fact that connections, even when minor, are fun. Stephen King devotees are well aware of all the little references to a connected universe in his book. Is it of monumental importance that the main character of 11/22/63 bumps into some of the kids from It? Nah, but it's a fun tidbit for those who catch it.

Next on the Cloverfield docket is reportedly a film with the working title Overlord, which is set during World War II and involves Nazis using supernatural methods to turn the tide of the war in their favor.

The promise of Overlord is exactly what makes Cloverfield an exciting franchise: It can go anywhere -- and anywhen. If we can keep getting interesting, experimental sci-fi movies with a little bit of connective tissue, I'm on board -- even if some of them are duds.

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