Its surprise release may be daring, but “The Cloverfield Paradox” is anything but

the-cloverfield-paradox_1.jpg

This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

When “Cloverfield” was released just over ten years ago, it arguably birthed a phenomenon that we now call “viral marketing.” By the time the film was released, no one really knew what it was about even after internet sleuths spent months scouring for clues on unprecedented viral websites detailing aspects of the world. When “10 Cloverfield Lane” was released in 2016, it followed a similar trend, with a trailer dropping for it only months before its release and a great deal of mystery surrounding the film.

Producer J.J. Abrams and new partner Netflix have now outdone themselves by releasing a Super Bowl trailer for the newest entry in the (sort of) anthology franchise, “The Cloverfield Paradox,” with a surprise announcement that the film would be releasing on the streaming platform once the game had concluded. Originally called “God Particle,” speculation around the movie intensified once it was announced that Abrams had picked up the script to be part of his “Cloverfield” universe, and Netflix capitalized on the hype with this rather daring decision. It’s a pity that the film that accompanies said decision is a thoroughly mediocre one.

Following a group of astronauts abroad an international space station designed to test a particle accelerator that could solve a critical energy crisis on Earth. The plot mostly focuses on Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Black Mirror”), a communications officer pressured to take on the mission by her husband (Roger Davies) after they suffer a personal tragedy. “Paradox” kicks into action as Hamilton and crew finally get the accelerator to work, albeit with disastrous consequences.

The film churns along nicely for the first half as the crew deals with the weird and terrifying implications of their invention working, as dimensions meld and the fabric of their reality shifts unpredictably. While relying heavily on science-fiction convention, the set pieces in the scenes following the successful test are at least interesting and fun enough to distract you from the unoriginality. However, the latter half of the film becomes a derivative and frankly rather boring slog through virtually every space thriller plot beat you’ve seen before. While “Cloverfield” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” were absolutely genre homages themselves, they pushed the boundaries of the medium interesting enough ways to warrant that homage. “Paradox,” however, feels like an alien-less rip-off of last year’s “Life,” which in itself was kind of rip-off. It becomes more and more evident as the film goes on that this was a messy and uninspired script that need salvaging, so Abrams and company attempted to do so by injecting some lazy connections to the original “Cloverfield” into the plot and creating hype with the release that the film is not good enough to warrant.

The real crime of the film is that its diverse and massively talented cast, led by Mbatha-Raw and including the excellent David Oyelowo (“Selma”), Chris O’Dowd (“Bridesmaids”), Daniel Brühl (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Elizabeth Debicki (“The Great Gatsby”), is largely wasted. Mbatha-Raw is perfectly fine in the lead role, but like the rest of the cast is given very little to do. Most of the script consists of arguing, spitting out science terms designed to sound smart and providing jarringly misplaced gallows humor. In the end, none of it really works the way it could have, and all involved suffer for it. Not even the “Cloverfield” tie-in that the film builds to isn’t really worth the effort of sitting through this. But hey, if you have a Netflix account already, at least you can say you watched this for free. 

Ryan Ninesling