The movie industry is in a state of flux as streaming services like Netflix begin producing feature films to try and rival high-profile blockbusters traditionally seen at the local cineplex. Netflix has been working on changing the game in the world of television for awhile now, by producing boatloads of quality shows to appeal to a wide spectrum of television watchers. The concept of binge-watching TV shows has been a major paradigm shift. Until now, Netflix hadn’t made any moves to challenge the movie-going experience. It all changed on Super Bowl Sunday, a week or so ago, when the trailer for the new “Cloverfield” movie debuted. Four hours later, Netflix released the film.
It was a baller move. The idea of debuting an artistic endeavor without marketing has been a thing in the music industry for awhile, a la Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” It’s a brand new bag for the movie industry. But as we all know, gimmicks are often used to try and conceal lackluster product, which is ironic, given the fact the movie has the word “Cloverfield” in it.
The original “Cloverfield” film came masked in secrecy and used inventive marketing to hide the fact they had a very boring found-footage monster. The second in the “Cloverfield” series, “10 Cloverfield Lane,” was released in theaters and was cloaked in mystery; though, it ended up being a much more entertaining experience. Instead of a terrible, gimmicky monster movie, we got a super-tense claustrophobic potboiler, featuring a wonderfully insane John Goodman.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” is an interesting confection—a science-fiction thriller with some cool ideas and a tenuous connection to the other films in the series. We join the crew of the Cloverfield Space Station; they are attempting to use a particle accelerator to solve the world’s energy crisis by creating an infinite energy source. Easy peasy, right? Apparently not. After two years orbiting Earth, the crew hasn’t been able to successfully create an infinite power supply. Science is hard.
There’s some natural tension between the crew, who look like they were all cast from the same United Colors of Benetton ad. The crew is a coalition of diverse characters representing all four corners of the globe. Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a Brit who has to navigate many difficult personalities on board. It includes a German scientist (Daniel Bruhl), a captain struggling to maintain control (David Oyelowo) and a snarky Irishman (Chris O’Dowd), among others.
The first act sets up the dire circumstances and works to establish the relationship between Hamilton and her husband Michael (Roger Davies). Soon enough, she’s in space watching each subsequent test fail and desperately short on time. They finally run a successful test of their particle collider, but something weird happens and things start going sideways real fast. I don’t want to spoil the plot twists and turns because they are really the only reason to stay invested in “The Cloverfield Paradox.”
There’s nothing really wrong with the movie, but there’s nothing right about it either. It’s a perfectly cromulent piece of sci-fi pulp with a great cast but a premise that never really delivers on the promise of its potential. Audiences should realize such when they saw the name J.J. Abrams listed as producer. Abrams has made a career perfecting the sizzle, but the guy doesn’t really know how to cook a steak.
Writer Oren Uzel has crafted something interesting, along with the director, Julius Onah; he moves the story at a decent pace. There just isn’t a lot that feels fresh. It’s a monster-mash of messy clichés and tropes. Pulpy sci-fi is entertaining enough to warrant watching, but the film feels like a really long episode of “Black Mirror” that never delivers the goods. Yet, because it’s on Netflix—and I didn’t have to leave my house—I find myself ambivalent about it all. Had I been forced to go to the theater to see “The Cloverfield Paradox,” I might have been a little more chuffed. If Netflix is going to change the way we watch movies, they might need to rethink gimmicks and just deliver quality content. Gimmicks are a great way to get people hooked, but you need good movies to get people to stick around.