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Review: ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ is a messy, loosely fitting piece of the Cloverfield puzzle

It lacks the groundedness that made hits of the first two films, but adds long-awaited answers to the complex franchise.
Published Feb. 5, 2018
Updated Feb. 5, 2018

The existence of a particle accelerator should be an instant red flag that something terrible is going to happen.

The staple machine of science fiction is the mechanical star of The Cloverfield Paradox, the next piece of J.J. Abrams' reality-bending puzzle released on Netflix immediately following the Super Bowl Sunday night.

Paramount was originally set to release the film in theaters, but instead sold it to Netflix. The streaming giant decided to give it some shock value by revealing a teaser during the game and launching the film before the Philadelphia Eagles could say "we're going to Disney World!"

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There's always been an intriguing air of secrecy and complexity around the Cloverfield franchise, so it was no surprise this film spurned advertising, trailers or press screenings. But once the prequel/sequel film dropped a little before 11 p.m. Sunday, it quickly became clear why it didn't get a theatrical release.

It's a bit of a mess. A tense, sometimes fun mashup of classic sci-fi, but often overwhelmed by absurdity and chaos.

Earth is suffering from a major energy crisis and is on the brink of world war. Technology is still booming, so one potential solution is to launch a team of scientists into space to test and hopefully succeed at using a particle accelerator to harness a limitless source of energy.

Lead Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) leaves behind on Earth a loving husband (Roger Davies) and personal trauma involving the loss of their two children. Up on the Cloverfield Station, she struggles to find a way to save the world alongside scientists from around the world (David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Zhang Ziyi, Chris O'Dowd, John Ortiz and Aksel Hennie).

Using an unstable piece of high-tech machinery to save humankind is, of course, a process that takes longer than expected. Just as things seem to start going right, all hell breaks loose on the ship. The shock moments that ensue read like a collision between Doctor Who and Alien.

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There are seamless elements that connect The Cloverfield Paradox to the first and second films almost too easily. Eagle-eyed fans can easily pick out Easter eggs to the franchise as a whole as well as nods to sci-fi lore that became before.

And as with most modern space films, the production design is quite beautiful. Director Julius Onah and his crew went for the feel of claustrophobia and suffocating dread amidst the vastness of space — and nailed it.

The diversity of its cast and the fact that this genre film is led and directed by people of color give The Cloverfield Paradox some much-needed experience points.

However, The Cloverfield Paradox tries to achieve the same groundedness and intrigue that made hits of the first two films, but largely misses the mark. 10 Cloverfield Lane also eschewed mass advertising for a surprise release, but its seamless connection to the franchise and natural humanity made it one of the greatest sequels of all time.

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The Cloverfield Paradox often thrives on bumbling and nonsensical actions by the supposed expert crew. It's clear the team on the Cloverfield Station is getting sick of one another after almost two years in space, but their bickering often lacks believability and substance.

There are quite a few foreign policy side-plots that never fully get explained or resolved.

The nature of the Cloverfield franchise is that it wants to be almost too complex for a mass audience. The genre film aims to shock, awe and drive mad with questions that may never be answered.

And with the group of films rumored to grow even more later this year with a World War II-set thriller, fans might get what was missing from The Cloverfield Paradox.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at Follow @chelseatatham.


The Cloverfield Paradox

Now available on Netflix.