Netflix released the first trailer for The Cloverfield Paradox during the Super Bowl, and the trailer came with a surprise: The movie itself would be available to stream in its entirety that night. That strategy was about sending a message to Hollywood and fans about how the movie business is changing, as much as it was about making money.
The question is whether the movie itself is good, or if it works better as a way to signal the might of Netflix as a company. It doesn’t help that 10 Cloverfield Lane, despite its nebulous connection to the franchise, was one of the best movies of 2016. The Cloverfield Paradox has a lot to live up to.
[Warning: The following contains major spoilers for The Cloverfield Paradox.]
There’s little left to enjoy after the buzz of watching a surprise movie wears off. The Cloverfield Paradox feels like a straight-to-video remake of 2017’s Life, another forgettable haunted house in space.
Where it all went wrong
The Cloverfield Paradox follows a small crew of astronauts on a space station carrying what might be humanity’s last hope for unlimited energy. It’s a dangerous and expensive experiment, which is why they have to test it in space. The rest of the world seems ready to go to war over the remaining energy on the planet — we hear about the masses of people starving in Russia — but our thirst for power can be slaked if these scientists can get their new energy source working in time.
One talking head back on Earth warns about the “Cloverfield paradox” (hey, that’s the name of the movie!) during a news broadcast, which is something about how particles moving between dimensions will unleash monsters and other unpleasant things on the planet. Sure enough, the planet seems to disappear once the power source goes online for a test, and creepy things begin to happen, both on the space station and on our planet.
The characters themselves are given very little time to develop personalities outside of representing their home countries, and the script never spends time explaining the rules of slipping between dimensions. People who shouldn’t be on the space station at all show up. A machine that seems to 3D-print food can also make a gun. One character loses an arm, and then finds it. The arm delivers an important message about the location of a piece of equipment. The space station itself seems to want to kill everyone.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, the first Cloverfield movie is taking place.
The Cloverfield Paradox hints at larger issues about ethics and the relative importance of one life over another, but then does very little with them. It’s a jumble of ideas with little coherent logic holding them all together. It wants to be Event Horizon without the gothic horror, and it kinda hints that it would like to be Alien without the ... well, you know.
It’s not a completely bad movie, and I was appropriately scared during the scary scenes and creeped out by the creepy scenes. You know freaky things are going to happen once the crew realizes the worms are missing from a science experiment.
The problem is that all the elements that are lifted from existing movies are never put together in an interesting new way. The connection to the two other Cloverfield films consists of a few lines of dialogue and a final shot that’s more fan service than plot twist.
Audiences are going to be forgiving because it’s novel to watch a film of this scope in your home on opening day, and you don’t have to pay anything to do so if you’re already a Netflix subscriber. (Nor do you have to spring for a babysitter, if you have kids.) But that’s a measure of the Netflix service itself, and its current buying power in Hollywood. The movie itself feels like leftovers; bland and acceptable if you don’t want to go out, but disappointing if you were expecting anything else.