Netflix and Paramount shocked audiences when they aired an unexpected trailer for “The Cloverfield Paradox” during the SuperBowl. It wasn’t shocking due to any of the content in the trailer. It was the end slate which touted “coming to Netflix very soon.” By “very soon,” they meant right after the Super Bowl. Moments into this space set entry to the Cloverfield series, it seems wild, possibly trailblazing, that a glossy entry into a profitable series would go straight to streaming, dropping like a Beyonce album. The world gets to experience the shock together and watch the film removed from any pre-release hype or opinion. As the film continued on, the motivations became more clear. The SuperBowl commercial and secrecy was meant to engender generosity for the quality of the film. Instead of birthing a new method of distribution, Netflix demonstrated the most high profile dumping of a garbage product.
For those looking to keep their viewing experience as spoiler free as possible, we will keep the details bare bones. Luckily, there’s not much to speak of in terms of a meaty plot. The world of finds itself in an energy crisis that gives itself five years to extinction. With the support of her boyfriend (Roger Davies), Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) takes off in space on a mission to solve this crisis. After two years in space, the crew tries again in vain to blast open a new energy source to save the Earth. What happens instead is a misfire that opens the ship, and the world up, to powers we are unfamiliar with.
From there, the film takes us down a rabbit hole of faux sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. Instead of serving chills and thrills, the film pounds us with an explanation that grows more convoluted with each plot point. That doesn’t stop the film from recalling every successful (and non-successful) sci-fi flick from the past. One character’s early death copies the famous chest-bursting scene from “Alien,” minus the surprise or shock. As the deaths and plot twists pile up, the film resembles a Frankenstein of “Jason X” type jumping the shark with the stakes of a below average Star Trek episode. Even once one accepts the film is bad, it’s hard to even find a dimension of the film that is “so bad that it’s good.” It’s lack of personality or a sense of humor makes it a quick, yet numbing experience. It evaporates, even as it happens.
It’s a shame the film turns out so bland when there’s so much talent in front and behind the camera. Gugu Mbatha-Raw remains one of our most promising up and coming talents. The rest of the crew is filled out with a who’s who of semi-famous faces with great career prospects. David Oyelowo runs into his first phoned in performance after making a career of elevating everything he is in. Daniel Bruhl, likewise, turns in a rare performance that barely registers. As higher-ups on the spaceship, they neither command the screen, nor the fellow crew members. Chris O’Dowd, meanwhile, never turns down a moment to steal the screen. Too bad, each of these moments registers as deeply unfunny. Add in perpetual day player John Ortiz, the entrancing Elizabeth Debicki, and deeply welcome Ziyi Zhang and it’s shocking this didn’t turn out better.
It’s heartening to see Nigerian born director Julius Onah given a chance with a marquee property. However, he brings little visual panache to this space odyssey. The original “Cloverfield” birthed a new wave of found footage films while weaving in a sweet love story. Our next addition to the franchise, “10 Cloverfield Lane,” brimmed with tension. On top of that, the production design was incredibly detailed and top notch, contributing to the claustrophobia that made the film work. Here, the spaceship is a blah pastiche of ships we’ve seen before. Any of the wit writer Oren Uziel can’t find any of the wit he used in his previous script “22 Jump Street.” Even weirder is the fact the script cuts back and forth to Earth, diminishing any tension the space scenes may have had.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” illustrates a lot of interesting developments for the film industry. With diversity behind and in front of the camera, the film works to further what filmmaking should look like. Add on an intriguing and ballsy release strategy, and its a project one can’t help but notice. However, this all works better as a headline rather than a film. One can salivate over the prospects of this, but there’s little in the way of content to suggest this film will last longer than a week in the zeitgeist.