Review: ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’

The Cloverfield Paradox poster

The Cloverfield Paradox | Julius Onah | February 4, 2018 (Netflix)

Among the flurry of big movie trailers that dropped in-between snaps during the Super Bowl, Netflix surprised the world yesterday with a trailer for The Cloverfield Paradox, announcing that the film would be available to stream immediately after the big game wrapped up. This was a huge move for the streaming giant, a clear sign that we are headed to a new era in the way that certain movies will be released in years to come.

Loosely tied into the framework of the original Cloverfield movie, The Cloverfield Paradox focuses on a group of scientists (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, Ziyi Zhang, John Ortiz and Aksel Hennie) in space who are trying to solve an energy crisis that is plaguing the entire planet. The world only has about five years of energy left, so Earth’s space agencies combined to send some of their brightest scientific minds to save the day. The plan is to use the Shepard Particle Accelerator, which would provide enough energy to save all of humanity on earth.

The Cloverfield Paradox - the space station crew

Time is running out and the crew is slowing losing patience with one another and the bleak situation at hand. After a seemingly successful run with the Shepard, it soon fails and things go drastically downhill onboard the ship as chaos ensues. If this sounds a bit like another sci-fi film that graced theaters less than 12 months ago, that’s because it is quite nearly identical to Life.

While the spaceship and characters aren’t exactly breaking any new ground for the genre, the first half hour works well enough to keep you interested in how it all plays out and what exactly the connection is to the Cloverfield world at large. The first half does a decent job of maintaining audience interest, but things start to get a bit too out of hand and it never steers itself back in the right direction.

It doesn’t help that both Julius Onah’s direction and Oren Uziel’s script is a bit too indebted to better sci-fi films that have come before it. Its main selling point is fans expected some epic tie-ins to the previous Cloverfield films. Mainly, Michael (Roger Davies), Hamilton’s (Mbatha-Raw) husband, is the on-Earth perspective. Only these bits don’t work in conjunction with all the activities onboard and feel like they were added later to the production in order to fit into the mythology of the rest of the Cloverfield universe.

The rest of the stuff on board keeps the audience wondering, but it follows the J. J. Abrams school of giving us weird occurrences without any trace of coming back to these incidents and offering explanations. As things get even more unwieldy and wild during its final act, I found myself seeing the film act even more derivative than it already was and the final scene is such a ham-fisted attempt to make this a Cloverfield film that it really stood out as a false note.

The Cloverfield Paradox - Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)

With a cast like this, it’s sad that they aren’t given more memorable or developed roles to work with. Aside from a solid performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the script never allows the rest of the crew members to become truly distinct or memorable characters. I did enjoy a few of the wisecracks from Chris O’Dowd, but that was sadly just about all that they gave him to do. The actors are all good enough that they make you want to like them simply because the actors playing them deserve better.

It’s a shame that the second half of the film goes the way it does as the first part showed flashes of potential that was never fully realized. Julius Onah doesn’t establish any sort of distinct style and the production design of the ship didn’t stand out from the myriad of other genre films that have come out in recent memory (Passengers, Alien: Covenant, Interstellar, and Gravity, just to name a few). Like a good chunk of the film, it does its job but didn’t go the extra mile to give us a new take on such a familiar genre.

It’s apparent that this script was rewritten in order to fit into the Cloverfield mythology. The irony is that with the inclusion of the branding comes the world of unfair expectations to seamlessly contribute and slide into the lore of the universe. If it was released just as it was (previously titled The God Particle), maybe it would’ve been a decent sci-fi B-movie that would’ve found a cult audience. Although it got some big-time attention due to the name and nature of the release, it’s likely that the marketing and show-stopping release by Netflix will be the only part of this film that will stand out.

Rating: 5.0/10

The Cloverfield Paradox is now streaming on Netflix.