The Cloverfield Paradox (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: When the international crew of a space station working on a particle accelerator is advertently hurled across the universe, a malevolent alien energy wreaks lethal havoc aboard the vessel.

REVIEW: Ever shrouded by production mystery and brilliant marketing subterfuge, the third chamber in JJ Abrams’ CLOVERFIELD canon – THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX – is indeed a bit of an oxymoronic head-scratcher. With its biggest budget ($26 million) and most impressive ensemble to date, the film not only demarcates a clear line of diminishing returns for the amorphous franchise, it's haphazardly woven into previous chapters, and even as a standalone stint of sci-fi horror, the movie explores absolutely nothing new as it relates to the perceived threat of extraterrestrial life. Despite reducing the actual assailant to an invisible form of alien energy/parasite rather than a stalking monster, nothing fresh here is added to the sci-fi conversation, no real progression made, no cinematic batons have been snatched and advanced forward a single step. Even with its slick production design and decently dedicated stable of A-list actors, the movie can’t help but be a diaphanously inferior ALIEN/LIFE/EVENT HORIZON/SPHERE knockoff. Of course, since Netflix chose to release the flick right after the Super Bowl, it must be said that there was no way this story could ever eclipse the dramatic heft of that particular game. A paradox indeed!

Somewhere in a galaxy, far, far…yeah. A crew aboard an international space station is stuck, having severe trouble with their firing drive. Day 623 and only three more ignition-tries worth of fuel left. We meet the American Commander Kiel (David Oyelowo) the German Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl), British Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Italian Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Chinese Tam (Xixi Yang), Brazilian Acosta (John Ortiz), Russian Volkov (Aksel Hennie) – all with one goal in mind, get the vessel operational and head the f*ck home. Problem is, their ship’s gyro went missing and Earth has suddenly disappeared from their sights in a matter of seconds. Worse, the crew comes to learn they’ve been far-flung to the other side of the universe, into a new dimension. Or at least, that’s what they think. From here, all kinds of crazy shite starts to go down. A woman named Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki) is found bloodily stuck in the walls of the vessel, power-cords running through her veins and all, yet she’s somehow remained alive for god knows long. Okay. She claims to be a former crew member of another ship long ago, and insists to know quite intimately Hamilton, who does not recognize her in the slightest. Oh these damn paradoxes…

One by one, almost every crewman is subjected to their own mysteriously malevolent brand of mistreatment. One guy loses an arm, one dude pukes a smorgasbord of worms, another nearly drowns, etc. Again though, all grossly pale as ersatz, borderline satirical stand-ins for far better, far grislier, far more viscerally imagined and realized subject matter as seen in 30-40 year old exemplars like ALIEN, XTRO, GALAXY OF TERROR, even softer and sillier fare like SPHERE and EVENT HORIZON. Even the Jensen character here, we can tell in a matter of thirty seconds of her nefarious scheming and ulterior plotting. Like everything else in the film, her true intentions come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever. Square blame for this digestible predictability, this safely entertaining familiarity, ought to rest at the hands of writer Oren Uziel (SHIMMER LAKE) and the sophomore slumping director Julius Onah (THE GIRL IS IN TROUBLE). Sure they keep things briskly engaging for most of the time, but they do not challenge what’s come before them in film or push the material into a new frontier of any kind – frightening, illuminating, uplifting – they instead simply regurgitate old themes and images we’ve seen done far better, for far longer.

Among the plaudits come mostly the technical. DP Dan Mindel, who shot both STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, was an inspired choice to stylishly light and shoot the grand cosmos, both exteriorly and inside the massive ship itself. There are some pretty nifty neon streaks and futuristic set-designs going on aboard the vessel that dazzle the eye. Again, it pretty much looks like Netflix’s other new series Altered Carbon, but still. Beyond that, if there’s any emotional drive to the story, it has to come via Mbatha-Raw’s character. It’s her who not only has sole contact to the ground with her man Michael (Roger Davis), himself living in a war-torn place not unlike the one seen in the original CLOVERFIELD, but she also gives a pretty moving speech toward the end that lets us know it’s her story first and foremost. All the actors sell their roles well in the film, but Mbatha-Raw is the obvious standout. O’Dowd’s got some funny one-liners as well!

In the end though, listen, you can tell why Paramount kept pushing back the release of the film, ultimately deciding to stream it on Netflix almost three months before putting into theaters (April 20th). THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is not only the most expensive franchise entry yet, it’s also by almost every measure the most disappointing. The worst even. And by worst, that’s not to say it’s an awful film, it’s just that we’ve come to expect more from this super-secretive-event-series branded by JJ Abrams, yes, but we’ve also come to expect more of this certain subset of outer-space horror yarns as well. So other than the visual aesthetic and solid performances, this is a pretty substandard affair. The subgenre simply isn’t cultivated toward any kind of real growth. There are no boundaries being boldly pushed here. Perhaps most damning though, aside from making a pretty feeble attempt to connect this to the larger CLOVERFIELD universe, and this might be the biggest paradox of all, is that Onah and Uziel have taken the idea of making an antigravity space movie a bit too seriously. At bare minimum, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX needed way more dramatic weight to take off!

The Cloverfield Paradox



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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie.