IT is a frustrating reality sown into modern cinematic experience that months of media hype and plot-spoiling trailers can often undermine a film before we have even taken our seats.
So, it was a welcome change when Netflix, ever the trend-setter, made an effort to invert this approach by opting for a secretive, last-minute approach.
Just two hours after the first trailer aired during Super Bowl 52, Netflix released the third film in the Cloverfield series – The Cloverfield Paradox. A smart move to capitalise on Super Bowl social media fervour and to propel football audiences towards the streaming service once the Eagles had sealed the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Those who did make the switch would have discovered a film markedly different from the found-footage original (Cloverfield, 2008) and the excellently claustrophobic second (10 Cloverfield Lane, 2016). The third Cloverfield film takes us out of John Goodman’s basement and thrusts us into space.
Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a British engineer, boards a space station along with an international team of experts in a quest to solve the world’s chronic energy crisis. At times the station becomes a microcosm of tensions back on earth. Confrontational Russia Volkov (Aksel Hennie) and strained German (Daniel Bruhl) fight over their roles while their respective nations gear up for war on the ground.
Unfortunately, there is no Swiss crew member on-board to help smooth things over.
As the days quickly drain away, a glimmer of hope turns into a nightmare as the team are transported to another reality. They must now find a way back to ‘their’ earth while combating the strange and perilous consequences of entering this paradox.
Unlike the jolting start to 10 Cloverfield Lane, the opening twenty minutes of The Cloverfield Paradox sets a slightly laborious and frustratingly familiar tone for the rest of the film. A great deal of this time is spent stating – and restating – the importance of this mission ‘to save us all.’ We get it so move on – please.
Hamilton, meanwhile, is largely relegated to ‘shocked’ passenger for the opening hour or so. It feels too late for her when the film threatens to spring to life with the arrival of mysterious passenger Mina (the impressive Elizabeth Debicki). By then we are long past caring.
Hamilton’s fellow passengers are equally misused. Chris O’Dowd (Munday) brings flimsy comic relief to fill out the film’s meek middle section while David Oyelowo is criminally wasted. Zhang Ziyi does show flashes of impressive intensity, but it leads down a dead end.
Just like Johnny Grunge’s 2017 space-horror Life, this is a film that positions itself under the shadow of Ridley Scott’s Alien. But it does little to separate itself, instead feeling like a weak imitation. The Cloverfield Paradox hits many of the same beats as Alien (internal body horror, diminishing numbers and space explosions) yet they now feel tired and ineffective.
The finale will divide many – just as the previous Cloverfield films have. I, for one, chuckle. That says it all for this disappointing, misdirected blip in the Cloverfield journey.
The Cloverfield Paradox? To stream or not to stream? Best left to drift in space forever more.