If nothing else, The Cloverfield Paradox is an interesting – if dubiously effective – experiment in advertising. Informing the masses of its existence via a short Super Bowl ad, it attracted a fair 750,000 viewers later that night. The series itself remains something of a novelty in the age of producers endlessly mining the same vein to diminishing returns: a loose series of movies that share the same name and universe, but are hugely unalike in terms of tone, scale, and genre. Cloverfield was a found-footage kaiju movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane was a claustrophobic thriller, and now we have The Cloverfield Paradox, a…space movie?
Which brings me to The Cloverfield Paradox’s most glaring flaw: it has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. The plot is standard space-horror material: sometime in the future, the crew of a space station inadvertently comes into contact with another dimension, along with the death and chaos that accompanies it. So it’s basically Event Horizon, right? But wait! I haven’t yet mentioned that the crew’s mission is to use their ship’s technology to harness enough power to solve the energy crisis on Earth, which is falling into shambles due to the shortage. So it’s Event Horizon meets Sunshine? Not so fast! There’s also the subplot following one of the crewmembers’ friends back on Earth, who attempts to get a little girl to safety while London crumbles around him. So it’s Event Horizon meets Sunshine meets These Final Hours? Yep, that about covers it.
So right off the bat we have a movie biting off huge chunks of genre that it’ll unlikely be able to chew. But I wanted to give The Cloverfield Paradox a chance, so I kept watching. Unfortunately, this three-piece genre cocktail never amounts to anything original, instead choosing to crib its entire narrative from parts of other, better movies. Now I can appreciate a decent pastiche as much as the next guy, but The Cloverfield Paradox is supremely lazy in its execution. It quickly becomes apparent that the interdimensional antics have no consistency, and are just excuses to throw vaguely creepy images at the screen; one character is eaten by worms from the inside, while another is biologically fused with a wall, et cetera. I understand that a dimensional crossover isn’t meant to be tidy, but it’s impossible for it to feel like a threat when it lacks even the slightest bit of internal logic.
Not content to merely flounder on the genre front, The Cloverfield Paradox also sabotages itself tonally. Both too serious and not serious enough, it refuses to camp up its B-Movie premise yet insists on punctuating its most tense moments with thudding quips. This sorry duty mostly falls to Chris O’Dowd, a comedically talented actor trying futilely to wring humor from a dismal script. About two-thirds into this jumble of over-seriousness and shrill comedy, the movie takes another U-turn into full-on schmaltz, complete with an overbearing violin score.
You’ll notice that so far, I’ve barely mentioned any of The Cloverfield Paradox’s characters. That’s not an accident. The movie barely puts any effort into distinguishing them, so why should I? The best we get are their names, jobs, and countries of origin; the rest is up to you to decide. There’s some manufactured drama involving international tensions, but again, none of these people are ever defined enough to care about. Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), our final girl du jour, is the only one given any kind of backstory, and it’s so blatantly generic that it fails to elicit the smallest blip of emotion.
Speaking of generic, this tangled mess of genres and tones still somehow manages to be predictable. Characters’ deaths are telegraphed ahead of time, and the twists are obvious. But it’s the final act that really kicks the clichés into high gear, checking every space-movie climax box imaginable: the technical problem fixable only by donning spacesuits and venturing outside, the eleventh-hour heroic sacrifice, and, of course, the literal ticking clock. Again, the presence of these tropes could be charming if the movie had any sense of fun, but it plays them all insultingly straight. In the end, The Cloverfield Paradox is both far too much and nowhere near enough, making a solid case for “straight to Netflix” to carry the same stigma once borne by “straight to video.”