Paramount and J.J. Abrams, which had followed up the modestly success Cloverfield with the terrific 10 Cloverfield Lane, recently made the wise decision to offload the follow-up sequel, The Cloverfield Paradox, onto Netflix. Netflix also smartly decided to announce during the Super Bowl that The Cloverfield Paradox would be released after the big game, meaning that 100 million people would learn of and be able to watch the new Netflix film before critics could shield the public from this monstrosity.
Everyone wins here, except for the poor saps who had to sit through The Cloverfield Paradox, which is a very bad movie, notwithstanding the terrific cast that director Julius Onah managed to assemble here. On paper, this is a phenomenal film: A sequel to Cloverfield produced by J.J. Abrams and set in outer space starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Ziyi Zhang, and John Ortiz. I mean, holy shit, right? Who doesn’t want to see this movie? Even when I tell you that it’s awful, you’re going to have a hard time believing that a movie with that cast can possibly be as bad as I suggest it is.
Well, it is, but many of you are still going to watch it, because how can you not with that cast, the fact that it’s a known property, and that it is essentially free? How bad can it be, really?
Think of your worst-case scenario: It’s worse than that.
The plot, ill-conceived as it is, mashes up a number of sci-fi tropes: It’s kind of like Fringe crossed with Interstellar crossed with Godzilla crossed with Alien crossed with a box of hair and a bag of mashed assholes.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw — who is actually phenomenal here, and easily the only reason to watch — stars as Hamilton, the leader of an international space crew tasked with finding a source of energy in space to replace the depleted sources on Earth, which itself is on the verge of a world war that could wipe out the planet. After about two years in space, the crew’s efforts to create a source of self-generating energy seems to finally have found some success until they realize that they have crossed over into a parallel dimension. The means by which they make this realization goes something like this: Chris Dowd’s character loses his arm; the arm, while being kept in a glass case, begins writing a message; the message tells the crew to open up the body of a man who has just vomited up thousands of tiny worms; and inside that man’s guts is a gyroscope, which helps them to realize what has happened.
Meanwhile, a character from the space ship in the parallel dimension, Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), gets stuck in Hamilton’s space ship. In Jensen’s universe, Hamilton isn’t on the ship. She’s back on Earth with her children, the same children who died in Hamilton’s universe. So, Hamilton is faced with a dilemma: Take this newfound energy source back to the planet Earth she belongs to without her kids and save its 8 billion inhabitants, or stay in the parallel dimension and save the planet where her kids are still alive. Jensen, who avails herself as the villain, tries to force the issue, but I am here to tell you all that it ultimately doesn’t matter which decision Hamilton makes because ….
… there’s a fucking Cloverfield monster waiting in the end, otherwise known as the anti-Deus ex machina, the Cloverfield plot device designed to undo every solution.
In fact, that may be the thematic link between the movies: No matter what happens or where — New York City, a fall-out shelter, or space — the Cloverfield monster will be waiting around at the end of the movie to wreck your shit. If Ocean’s 11 were a Cloverfield movie, Clooney and Pitt would successfully pull off their crowd-pleasing heist, but as they are reflecting upon their success and admiring the Bellagio fountains, a Cloverfield monster would come along and eat them. If Cloverfield were a historical drama, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep would make the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers and then the Cloverfield monster would destroy The Washington Post.
That device is easier to excuse in a movie like 10 Cloverfield Lane because everything that came before it was so intriguing and suspenseful. In a terrible movie like The Cloverfield Paradox, it reveals the Cloverfield monster for exactly what it is: A cheap, lame plot device. So, in addition to hating this movie, The Cloverfield Paradox will likely diminish your appreciation for the last two movies and dampen your enthusiasm for a fourth one.
In other words, while Paramount undoubtedly made some short-term gains by unloading this mess of a movie onto Netflix, that more easily accessible and essentially free exposure to the movie series will probably wreck the long-term future of the franchise by souring a larger number of people on the premise, almost as though the well-laid plans of J.J. Abrams and Paramount had been decimated by a Cloverfield monster.