The Cloverfield Paradox built a lot of hype by announcing that it would be available to stream on Netflix right after the Super Bowl. But unfortunately, the hype surrounding the super secretive and constantly delayed film turned out to be more interesting than the actual film itself. If you’ve seen Alien, Life, or even Gravity, it’s likely that you’ve seen The Cloverfield Paradox which is frustrating since it had potential to be better and a worthy addition to the Cloverfield franchise. Despite the efforts of its terrific cast, The Cloverfield Paradox ends up being an episodic imitation that gets lost in orbit.
The Cloverfield Paradox follows the story of Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who goes on a space expedition, leaving her husband Michael (Roger Davies) behind on Earth. On this expedition, Ava and her fellow crew; Commander Kiel (David Oyelowo), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Tam (Zhang Ziyi), Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl), Monk Acosta (John Ortiz), and Volkov (Aksel Hennie), are testing the Shepard particle accelerator which would provide a dying Earth with infinite energy. But when a test goes wrong, the crew finds itself in another dimension where Earth has vanished from their view. As the crew members try to find their way back home, strange events begin to occur including the discovery of a woman named Mina Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki).
As previously mentioned, the story is quite straightforward. A space crew has to deal with an entity that picks off one by one while one of them deals with being away from her loved one. But thankfully, there are slight attempts to break free from its formulaic nature. Within the first ten minutes, we see the crew suffer from cabin fever which is something that would normally occur in a film’s middle act. Also, rather than a physical being or entity, it is a force that is slowly picking off the crew members and before each one gets killed off, we’re able to see some sort of character development.
Despite the rushed editing and haphazard storytelling, we still spend enough time with the characters so that we care about who lives and credit for that should go to the actors who try to make this material work. Among the cast members, the MVP is easily Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ava. Gugu Mbatha-Raw has proven herself to be a reliable performer thanks to films like Beyond The Lights, Miss Sloane, and Larry Crowne and the fact that she is able to make a muddled film like this watchable shows that she deserves to have more star vehicles thrown her way. Also, Chris O’Dowd manages to provide solid comic relief while Elizabeth Debicki brings icy intrigue to her portrayal of Jensen. Even if names like Zhang Ziyi and John Ortiz aren’t given as much to work with, they still try to leave an impression.
If it wasn’t for the actors, The Cloverfield Paradox would be even more of a mess than it already is. But while it is a disappointment, it should still be celebrated for its attempts to avoid being a “space movie” clone as well as the casting that is rich in both gender and ethnic diversity. Plus, Nigerian-American director Julius Onah being given the opportunity to helm a franchise sci-fi film after his feature film debut, the 2015 film The Girl Is In Trouble, is refreshing when you think of the countless Caucasian male directors who get handed the keys to a tentpole film immediately after their indie debut.
It’s still a shame that The Cloverfield Paradox ended up being a glorified episode of The Twilight Zone with its rushed pacing and frustratingly simplistic plot. But at the very least, it’s a disappointing film that has some virtues ranging from its acting to its unique release strategy.