The anthology-like franchise takes a monster-sized leap backwards.
There are things to be said, many of them positive, regarding Netflix’s surprise, short notice release of The Cloverfield Paradox. More movies should reach our eyeballs with minimal marketing and even less spoilage of key scenes, but the joy of its delivery can’t cover for the disappoint of the product itself.
The world is on the cusp of disaster as global energy reserves run dry, and the only hope rests with the mission currently in progress on the Cloverfield space station miles above the Earth’s surface. The seven-person crew is trying to create an endless energy source using their experimental particle accelerator, but some fear the machine’s use will rip open the membrane of space and time unleashing monsters into our world.
Does that feel like a weirdly specific concern for a film boldly positing itself as part of the Cloverfield universe? Yes, yes it does.
Surprising no one, that paradox is fulfilled as reality takes a messed up turn both on the station and back on Earth. The crew powers down the accelerator to discover that their home planet has disappeared from view and is unreachable on comms. It only gets worse from there as one astronaut vomits up worms, another loses an arm to a carnivorous wall, and a crew member they’ve never met is found screaming where no living thing should be. With time running out, the crew needs to somehow reverse the effect, and even if they succeed there’s still the pesky problem of a dying Earth to worry about. Not great, Bob!
The Cloverfield Paradox‘s problems are legion as its existence as a poorly-written sci-fi thriller are made worse by the ham-fisted, messily forced inclusion of connective tissue to the universe already occupied by 2008’s Cloverfield and 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. This entry lacks the freshness of both, though, and instead regurgitates a sloppy stew inspired by the likes of Event Horizon, Life, and Interstellar. Director Julius Onah crafts his scenes well-enough with an assist from some terrific production design, but the script (by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung) tries too hard with too little.
The film’s greatest strength is a cast overflowing with talent, and while everyone but Gugu Mbatha-Raw is wasted — she takes the film’s only real lead role and gets the only real character depth — they’re welcome faces all the same. Daniel Brühl and Aksel Hennie get a bit to do, and Chris O’Dowd offers some ill-fitting comic relief, but the remaining crew members (including, sadly, Zhang Ziyi and David Oyelowo) are one-note blips.
Mbatha-Raw’s Hamilton is given a familial tragedy in her past that returns to complicate their immediate situation, but like nearly every dramatic beat here it’s delivered with more flat exposition than engaging interaction. Every conflict is presented with unearned urgency — the score by the normally reliable Bear McCreary is equally overdone — and the familiarity leaves us hoping for some unexpected story turn to come.
It never does.
The idea of a Cloverfield shared universe (of sorts) is an appealing one, and 10 Cloverfield Lane showed that it’s possible to recycle an existing script into the world with brilliant results. Film number three reveals it’s far from an infallible formula, though, as it disappoints at every turn and adds nothing to the bigger picture. No one’s asking the questions it may or may not set out to answer, and even if they were this is far from a satisfying or engaging response.
The Cloverfield Paradox might have been a passably generic sci-fi thriller had it remained a standalone film, but even those minimal “strengths” are neutered by fumbled attempts to cram it into a preexisting universe. A fourth film, Overlord, is rumored to be on its way later this year, and now the real paradox rears its monstrous head. Do we ignore it in the belief that it’s also going to underwhelm, or do we watch it and risk seeing the Cloverfield franchise ruined past the point of no return?