Published Feb 05, 2018In music, surprise albums have become fairly routine. In the film world, however, rolling out a movie with no warning is practically unheard of, and Netflix's choice to release The Cloverfield Paradox with only a few hours' notice throws an intriguing wrench into the standard Hollywood promotional machine.
The shock-and-awe rollout of The Cloverfield Paradox is the most surprising thing about the film, which otherwise resembles spooky space thrillers like Sunshine or Prometheus. Narratively, it's only tenuously connected to the prior Cloverfield films — much like 2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane, this is a "spiritual sequel" rather than a clear continuation of the same story.
The film is set in the not-too-distant future, as Earth spirals into war and chaos amid a global energy crisis. A international team of scientists — including England's Ava Hamilton (Black Mirror's Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Ireland's Mundy (the ever-charming Chris O'Dowd) — head to a space station to conduct energy experiments deemed too dangerous to perform back on Earth. Naturally, things go awry, causing dimensions to collide and leaving the crew members fighting to save their own lives and the planet itself.
It's a solid premise that captures humanity's modern paranoia about the breakdown of Earth's environment. Where director Julius Onah and screenwriter Oren Uziel drop the ball, however, is by flip-flopping between brainy sci-fi and inter-dimensional psychedelia. Is this a cerebral film about renewable energy and the space-time continuum? Or is it a romp full of surreal gore and wacky, creative deaths? During one particularly outlandish scene involving a disembodied arm, Chinese astronaut Tam (Ziyi Zhang) observes, "Logic doesn't apply to any of this." That statement pretty much sums up how the plot operates.
None of the astronaut characters are particularly fleshed out — only Hamilton gets a back story, as we see her husband back on Earth (played by Roger Davies) dealing with his own crises. Their exact roles on the ship are a little murky, and we're not particularly invested in their survival as they battle their way from one semi-plausible disaster to another. Mostly, we're just waiting for the inevitable reveal to find out how this is all connected to the Cloverfield universe.
As an elevator pitch, "Cloverfield in space" sounds fantastic. But while the action sequences occasionally succeed in capturing the pulse-racing menace of the last two, The Cloverfield Paradox is too silly to live up to its potential.