Well, here’s a pleasant February surprise. We had heard rumblings about a Paramount Pictures deal with Netflix regarding the Cloverfield franchise for several weeks now, but the assumption was that the fourth film (Overlord, which has already been shot and wrapped) would drop on that streaming platform some time later this year. Instead! As we were all munching Doritos through the seemingly endless stream of Super Bowl commercials last night, we discover that the third film in the series, The Cloverfield Paradox would magically appear on Netflix after the game set the streets of Philadelphia ablaze. Wow. There is something to be said about experiencing a film without a single trailer to stoke our anticipatory fires. No endless months of speculation. No rumormongering around how it would or would not tie in to the first two films. Just press play and watch. That’s a thrill….and maybe the death of cinema? Gosh, let’s not depress ourselves with that conversation, shall we? Let’s just talk about the movie that suddenly plopped in our laps last night.
As the world eats up its last remaining sources of energy, a group of international scientists are sent up into space to experiment with a particle accelerator in an effort to establish a renewable resource. Donal Logue’s doomsayer warns the planet from his Fox News soapbox that mucking about with nature could result in a catastrophic split in the fabric of space-time. Since we’ve already seen two previous Cloverfield films in which monsters and aliens happily assault our livelihood, we are fully aware that this two-minute clip on TV is predicting the course of the film. Sure enough, after several failed attempts of jumping their particle accelerator, these Frankenstein optimists crack through reality and cause a series of horrific accidents to occur aboard their space station.
The cast of The Cloverfield Paradox is an eccentric lot, worthy of Ridley Scott’s Nostromo. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is our gateway character, navigating the emotional trauma of a family tragedy while attempting to keep these crackpot scientists from committing further crimes against nature. David Oyelowo is our Tom Skerritt stand-in, constantly calculating the right move, but maybe a little too eager to make the sacrificial play. Daniel Bruhl is that potentially-mischievous German, responsible for the particle accelerator, and at odds with Askel Hennie’s Russian aggressor. Chris O’Dowd is there for the comical line delivery and mostly succeeds when the walls of the station begin to scream and feast upon their fleshy bits. John Ortiz, Ziyi Zhang, and Elizabeth Debicki round out the team but are mostly there to push the plot around. They’re all fun to watch, and if the script was not rooted in a dozen other superior sci-fi plots, the cast might have been something to celebrate.
The Cloverfield Paradox is not a total disaster. The multiverse potential offers these characters a few dramatic shocker, and who doesn’t love a sentient severed limb, and corpses erupting with worms? If the film had committed to its surroundings and dug a little deeper into the internal horrors ravaging their bodies, director Julius Onah could have crafted a scare film worthy of the classics it’s so desperately trying to replicate. Unfortunately, its awkward attempts to connect to the original film distract from that progression of terror.
Unfortunately, the story around this film will forever be its release strategy. There simply is just not enough there for you to remember it on its own merits. You will never be able to talk about The Cloverfield Paradox without referencing superior entities like Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), Event Horizon (1997), or TV’s Fringe (2008-2013). What loose ties it has to the original Cloverfield (2008) only offer confusion, and disrupt the nifty anthology thing the series had going for it after their second venture. What does this film do for Netflix? Is The Cloverfield Paradox a pleasant enough surprise to keep us hooked on their ever rising subscription fees? Is it just a dumping ground for Paramount to jettison their misfired franchise?
That period of time between the Super Bowl commercial bombshell and the hour and forty-two minutes after it premiered on Netflix was kind of exhilarating. If The Cloverfield Paradox blew our socks off then maybe we’d be singing the praises of such a stunt. The idea of a sci-fi thriller materializing on our television screens every few months without a hint or a clue to its plot is certainly tantalizing. It does feel revolutionary, and as such, The Cloverfield Paradox will probably float around the cinematic conversation for at least a few more years. But no one will be talking about the plot.