The Cloverfield Paradox heralds a major leap forward in Netflix’s quest to be taken as seriously as the big-boy film and television studios into whose business it continues to chomp.
Here is their equivalent of a last-second, big-ticket dump — and all of that word’s odoriferous connotations — with little care for quality and zero concern for torpedoing of what was, just hours ago, a creatively enigmatic franchise.
“Hours” is an aptly invoked unit of time. After no fewer than four release-date shuffles and zero advance footage, a 30-second teaser during yesterday’s Super Bowl confirmed rumors that Paramount (Cloverfield’s original home) partnered with Netflix to present the film. But in producer J.J. Abrams’ typical showman fashion … a twist! The Cloverfield Paradox would land on Netflix mere moments after the game ended.
Paradox’s predecessors twisted primal anxieties about modern life into alternately cacophonous and claustrophobic B-movies. (The latter, 10 Cloverfield Lane, also contorted an existing script into the Cloverfield universe, as was done here under the previous title of God Particle.) The idea, bandied about in interviews, is that continuations of Cloverfield would need not necessarily serve up more stomping monsters and that the name could serve as a sort of clearinghouse for tenuously connected stories.
All that’s novel here is how few people outside of Netflix brass knew they could watch a new Cloverfield movie so soon. You’d have been better off tuning into death by crockpot (or whatever) on This Is Us.
Now that it’s out, there’s no need to pretend providing Paradox to interested parties right-now-today is some sort of modern-day William Castle gimmick for which to praise Abrams. It has been sprung like the trap it very much resembles for anyone who watches it and every poor-sonofabitch actor stuck therein. Honestly, Paradox was toast once Abrams, the franchise’s chief creative architect, was unexpectedly pressed to service on a film of inarguably greater promise also set among the stars.
Apparently abandoning his planned attempts to fix this mess — from which smart money says Nigerian-American director Julius Onah likely won’t recover — Abrams has thrown in a Slusho bobblehead here, a Kelvin gas station there and Tagruato labels everywhere for the Easter-egg hunters and called it a mystery box. (Don’t forget those Grunberg-and-Pegg voice cameos, folks!)
Save a midway moment involving a misplaced arm and Chris O’Dowd’s expert response to this lunatic development, Paradox is a rigor-mortised snoozer and ripped-edge Rolodex of rotten homages — from Interstellar and Alien to The Abyss and, most lazily, Abrams’ own Fringe. Unlike that underrated TV series, Paradox treats the notion of a multiverse like a club sandwich folded over endlessly to fit more condiments and extra, extra cheese until the whole structural integrity simply collapses.
You may feel dumber even for just reading a synopsis, but here goes. Earth has exhausted its energy sources, prompting preemptive panic over the probability of World War III. In a last-ditch effort, an international crew of astronauts agrees to test a particle accelerator from the Cloverfield Space Station. (It’s called the Helios Project, though, which is just one sign of the seams showing as the existing world is stitched in.) If it works, they’ll create enough free energy for every nation forever, but they’ve so far been unsuccessful — with 46 tries over nearly two full years in orbit.
As foretold by a scene in which Donal Logue’s character spells out precisely what’s going to happen, firing this accelerator 46 damn times has some disastrous consequences for … you know … the whole space-time thing. And just when the particle accelerator generates “positive energy” — a riotous oxymoron for a movie this bad — oops, they seem to have wiped Earth right off the map! That is, as O’Dowd says, a pretty big problem. But then critical ship-running doohickeys go missing, screams are heard from behind the walls, the little foosball guys start spinning on their own, people’s eyeballs don’t seem to stay in place and … sweet Jesus, it Does. Not. Matter. What if the little foosball guys came to life and started attacking the humans? Well, it might have mattered a little.
What does matter is a poverty of imagination in assembling O’Dowd, Logue, David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Elizabeth Debicki and Zhang Ziyi … and asking them solely to blather on humorlessly about manifold rings, orbit capacitors, inlay gussets, angles of the dangle and all other matters of useless gibberish. Then again, the alternative:
“If you go, we’ll survive. If you don’t, no one will.”
“If we can’t keep our shit together up here, how can we expect them to do it down there?”
“I don’t just need to see them. I need to save them.”
“I need to say two things that won’t make sense to you.”
OK, that line totally fits The Cloverfield Paradox.
Mbatha-Raw and Debicki come closest to fine, but even their work is rendered moot by Debicki’s immediately suspicious Brigitte-Nielsen-in-1985 hairstyle and Mbatha-Raw’s teary revelations that, sadly, exist in one sole dimension. Married to a guy back on the Earth they misplaced, Mbatha-Raw’s character has the last name Hamilton. Good thing she didn’t take her husband’s surname, as Mr. Exposition gets his own adventure that farts a shout-out to 10 Cloverfield Lane and then just … stops. (Composer Bear McCreary, returning from Lane, contributes work here as blathering as that score was bold.)
What’s most depressing about The Cloverfield Paradox is how quickly the promise of a contemporary anthological delight has been vaporized into VOD-level bullshit. Those unlucky enough to have seen the Dan Stevens vehicle Kill Switch will have, rather shockingly, seen this story done better.
With brief flares of political content, Paradox feints at a parable of paranoia and perspectives in an era of weaponized information. Instead, it’s a necessary reminder that the things we love in this life can be ripped from us so quickly. After all, who knew when they woke up Sunday morning that the Cloverfield franchise would be dead in hours?