This review contains minor SPOILERS from The Cloverfield Paradox. After years of mystery, the enigmatic clouds of the J.J. Abrams-produced The Cloverfield Paradox have finally lifted, and the world can now take a look at what he has been keeping under wraps for so long. Directed by Julius Onah and written by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung, the latest installment of the Cloverfield universe plays out like a “greatest hits” of sci-fi movie tropes we have seen in the past. It’s a fine tapestry of intergalactic thrills, but the mystery surrounding the film since its inception is far more exciting than the movie itself, and the connection to the other Cloverfield films is flimsy and leaves much to be desired.
Since the announcement of the film years ago and the surprise release after the Super Bowl (news that Deadline broke), The Cloverfield Paradox showed plenty of promise, building a noteworthy cast of globally diverse actors that included Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris O’Dowd, Zhang Ziyi, Roger Davies, Aksel Hennie and John Ortiz. And with the young and talented Onah in the director’s chair under the producing eye of Abrams, it had plenty of details working in its favor to make it worthy of following in the footsteps of the Cloverfield movies before it.
From the beginning, we knew the movie took place in the near future, following a group of astronauts on a space station working to solve a massive energy crisis on Earth. The experimental technology aboard the station has an unexpected result, leaving the team isolated and fighting for their survival. This is the foundation of a movie that quickly turns into a remix of Lost in Space, Interstellar, Alien, Prometheus, Star Trek (the new ones), Gravity, Sunshine, The Martian and a host of other movies set in space that I’m probably missing.
The movie primarily focuses on Mbatha-Raw’s Hamilton, the plot’s emotional center. As the only character with any kind of backstory, we see she carries some sort of tragedy from her past — that past is sparsely touched on, but the talented Mbatha-Raw makes the most of it. Other than that, the other characters fill out typical roles in this kind of “spaceship in despair” movie. There’s the smarty pants who happens to knows everything so that the narrative moves forward (Bruhl); the person who serves as the main character’s emotional support (Oyelowo); the doctor who knows how to cut a body open when the time is right (Ziyi); the handyman who also serves as comic relief (O’Dowd); the hothead weirdo (Hennie); the one who keeps his cool under any circumstance (Ortiz); and the mysterious stowaway from another dimension (Debicki). Don’t worry, I’ll get to the interdimensional travel later.
To solve the aforementioned energy crisis, the ragtag group of astronauts are running some sort of experiment to find endless free energy for Earth. During one of their experimental runs, they experience a surge that causes a malfunction. Lo and behold, when they look out the window, Earth is nowhere to be seen, and they find Debicki stuck in one of the walls of their spaceship. Turns out their dimension collided with another dimension, and now the two are trying to co-exist — a big no-no when it comes to interdimensional travel, which would explain why they can’t find Earth. That said, as they find their way out of this predicament, things become increasingly chaotic with equipment malfunctions, untrustworthy shipmates, weird noises coming from the ship’s halls, appendages having a mind of their own, and their own gross-out Alien “chestburster” moment. All the while, there’s a story focusing on Hamilton’s husband (Davies) on Earth that is tacked on as an afterthought. The more insane things get, the messier and rushed the film becomes.
Peppered with B-movie flair, the film feels like it wants to go balls-to-the-wall with its space thrills but holds back, which is a shame because I would have been more on board if this was completely bonkers; a sci-fi movie that goes off the rails would have been far more entertaining and enjoyable. Maybe with the caliber of talented actors, they were trying to avoid going in that direction. There is so much in this movie but it is served in uneven portions, resulting in cluttered storytelling and more unanswered questions that stem from the first Cloverfield movie in 2008.
Paradox is veering towards the direction of Lost as it seems like its starting to paint the Cloverfield universe into a corner. Although all of these movies aren’t directly related, they are, if I’m not mistaken, supposed to exist in the same universe. There was a clear connection between Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but this installment is an outlier. Paradox is the sore thumb that sticks out — which is the frustrating thing about it. Based on the project’s mystery, name changes (remember when it was called God Particle?), release-date shifts and overall mystery, the expectations were set wildly high because audiences are intrigued with secrecy — especially when it comes from the Bad Robot camp. That said, doing a surprise release of the film on Netflix was a smart move: Even though expectations were high for the movie, catching audiences off-guard can help drive more interest and excitement. Just look what a surprise release did for Beyonce’s Lemonade album.
The Super Bowl trailer for Paradox gave the impression the movie would reveal the origin of the monster that appeared in the 2008 movie and was later on hinted at in the critically acclaimed 2016 follow-up — but it barely did that. Instead, it stalls the franchise as a pastiche of sci-fi cinema veiled in clever marketing.