Starring Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, Zhang Ziyi
Written by Oren Uziel
Directed by Julius Onah
After delays, conspiracy theories, and mysteries aplenty, Netflix pulled a shocker of a move by not only announcing during this year’s Super Bowl that they would be releasing The Cloverfield Paradox, the third entry in the Cloverfield universe, on their streaming service but also that it would be available to watch immediately following the end of the game. True to their word, the moment it was announced that the Philly Eagles had won the game, the film became available to stream.
As I assume many others did, I immediately turned off the lights, cranked the volume, and hit “Play” to enter what I hoped would be another fascinating sci-fi horror/thriller. While the first two acts were magnificent, the third act unfortunately suffered, leaving this film a good, but not great, release.
Set in the near future, Earth is in an energy crisis with countries at critical levels of tension with one another as their populations suffer, starve, and die. Enter Hamilton (Mbatha-Raw), a scientist who, at the behest of her husband, travels to a space station that holds a potential answer to returning power to the planet and its inhabitants. Originally a mission designed to take a few months, the opening credits reveal that the events of the film take place nearly two years after the mission’s onset. After a successful launch of the Shepherd Particle Accelerator, the crew then find themselves lost in space and begin to experience strange, unexplainable phenomena, all of which was portended by a conspiracy author.
Drawing heavily from films like Event Horizon, Sunshine, and Alien, Onah brings us into the lives of the crew of the “Cloverfield” space station. That being said, we aren’t allowed to spend as much time with them as I would’ve liked, making each character feel more like a cardboard stereotypical cutout than a fleshed out person. Hamilton’s husband down on Earth is the only real connection this crew seems to have with the planet below. Meanwhile, the rest of them wax poetically about wanting to help save the 8 billion people who live amongst the energy crisis; yet, none of them speak of their own families or loved ones. It is this same lack of relationship to the people they’re trying to save that makes it impossible to relate to them, which, as a result, removes any chance of us, the viewers, caring when they die one-by-one.
The first and second acts make use of the surreal nature of the premise to wonderful degrees. The uncertainty and oddity of the situation that the crew find themselves in make for some truly fascinating moments, such as Chris O’Dowd and his disappearing/reappearing arm, the case of mysterious crew member Jensen, or the strange location of the ship’s gyroscope. However, for as exciting and engaging as moments like these are, they go unexplained or, perhaps even worse, end up getting such a generic, “sci-fi buzzword” explanation that it feels like it would’ve been better had nothing been offered.
The third act sees the film stumble dramatically. The first two acts had scenes that quite literally had me sitting on the edge of my seat, but the third saw me slumped back in my couch twiddling my thumbs. A tight story began unraveling as the script desperately tried to weave together some sort of interesting narrative that ultimately came across as desperate, unoriginal, and, worst of all, bland. It all culminates in an ending that had me roll my eyes, despite the awesome premise that it held.
Perhaps the biggest issue with The Cloverfield Paradox is how obviously shoehorned it was into the Cloverfield universe. While the ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane felt like a bit of a stretch, the attempt to connect The Cloverfield Paradox into that cinematic universe is downright embarassing. Just use CGI to change the name of the space station, add in a TV segment where they use the word “Cloverfield” several times, and BOOM! You’ve got yourself a connected film. But while 10 Cloverfield Lane aimed a microscopic lens at the way an alien invasion could impact a small group of people, The Cloverfield Paradox simply aimed too high and could not match its stratospheric aspirations.
The Cloverfield Paradox could’ve been something really incredible. Alas, it ended up being a desperately obvious shoehorned addition to the Cloverfield universe, one that started off incredibly strong and petered out to a predictable and dull ending. Not great, not awful, it’s certainly a disappointment.