The Cloverfield Paradox being announced during the Super Bowl and then released onto Netflix a few hours later is a neat thing, and could be a major shift for the film industry. But on the movie’s own merits, it’s clear that Paramount took a film that plays like a worse version of last year’s Life or a bad Black Mirror episode and dumped it onto a willing taker, in this case, Netflix. And after the initial excitement dies down, you’ll see that Julius Onah’s The Cloverfield Paradox is a tepid, predictable, and largely uninteresting sci-fi film where dumb characters do dumb things and bad things happen because the script needs them to. It’s a movie that’s not particularly scary, interesting, or deep, but it does have good actors performing admirably.
The Earth is facing an energy crisis and presumably having run out of wind and the sun, we have decided that the only way left to save the planet is through a particle accelerator in space, dubbed “The Shepard.” The international crew of Cloverfield Space Station—Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Kiel (David Oyelowo), Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Tam (Ziyi Zhang), Monk (John Ortiz), and Volkov (Askel Hennie)—have been on the station for over two years trying to get the space laser to work properly. On their most recent attempt, the Earth “disappears” and strange things, like a mysterious crew member, Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), showing up inside the walls, start happening. The crew realizes that the Shepard has messed with space-time, flung them to another dimension, and now they must figure out how to get back home. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Hamilton’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) helps a young girl run away from giant monsters.
All of the Cloverfield stuff has clearly been added later because none of it really fits organically into the plot. One of the screens in the space station shows footage of an author (Donal Logue) talking on a news broadcast about how the Cloverfield mission could rip open space-time and monsters could start coming in. So basically, The Cloverfield Paradox functions as a prequel to Cloverfield by explaining where the monsters came from. But like 10 Cloverfield Lane, the monsters are kind of an afterthought with the meat of the story and conflicts focused elsewhere.
In the case of The Cloverfield Paradox (previously titled God Particle), it’s about scientists bickering on board the space station as everything goes horribly wrong. This is the same issue we saw last year with Life, but at least that movie had the benefit of the organism doing things. Onah’s movie just shrugs, and if it needs something bad to happen, it will happen and blame it on the dimension jumping. Rather than give the movie any sense of tension that horrible things could happen (and these are horrible things happen under what would have been a PG-13 rating), it just makes the narrative feel lazy to the point where a character may as well announce, “I hope [bad thing] doesn’t happen!” we then wait ten minutes, and [bad thing] happens.
These kind of shortcuts drain The Cloverfield Paradox of any tension with hapless scientists being tossed around by whatever disaster needs to happen next. The odd relief is that there doesn’t seem to be any malevolence behind the mishaps, so there’s no comfort of having to confront an evil creature or presence. The downside is that the characters aren’t smart enough to cope with their situation, so you’re basically just waiting for everyone to die with maybe the exception of Hamilton since she’s the main character. Meanwhile, events happen with no explanation of why they would even occur in the first place. For example, at one point one character uses the 3D printer on board to make a gun. But why would a gun even be programmed in the first place? What possible reason would you need a gun on a space station? But the movie needs a gun, so it finds the laziest reason to put it there and the laziest reason for a character to use it.
The poor plotting is made even worse by the fact that this is a good cast, and they deserve better material. Mbatha-Raw, Oyelowo, Bruhl, O’Dowd, and Debicki all get to shine, but the movie doesn’t really know what to do with anyone other than Mbatha-Raw, whose character is faced with an interesting personal conflict. But since the film is so eager to start ripping apart the space station and killing off characters, we’re never that invested in anyone beyond what the actors give us. Again, if you saw Life last year, none of this will feel unfamiliar.
You can see The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix right now, and that’s kind of a neat thing, but the movie is nowhere near as good as the original Cloverfield or 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s not even as good as some of the weaker episodes of Black Mirror where messing with technology leads to terrible outcomes. There are lots of bad movies on Netflix, and now The Cloverfield Paradox is just another one of them.