“The Cloverfield Paradox” should have stayed on the shelf

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, David Oyelowo, Chris O Dowd, and Ziyi Zhang star in “The Cloverfield Paradox.”


Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, David Oyelowo, Chris O’ Dowd, and Ziyi Zhang star in “The Cloverfield Paradox.”

Born out of some dark editing bay and released guerrilla style to an unsuspecting public, Netflix’s surprise release of “The Cloverfield Paradox” was unleashed Sunday night in a savvy publicity stunt. The third entry in the loosely connected “Cloverfield” franchise, (following 2016’s stellar “10 Cloverfield Lane”) this third film is unfortunately only notable because of its clever marketing scheme and release, and not the movie it brings to the table.

Opening on an Earth strangled by an energy crisis, the film follows Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an English astronaut, as she toils in a space station floating above the heavens. Her, along with a crew of international scientists, are working tirelessly to create a new energy source for the starved planet below.

Their experiments open up a rift in dimensions and splice two realities together, resulting in an interstellar knot that seemingly can’t be untangled. It’s ironic that the film is about two realities becoming conjoined together and overlapping one another, because the movie feels about the same way.

This project looks like two unfinished films pushed together to save face, because each “section” of the film feels so distinct and unrelated to the other that it’s painfully obvious what was going on behind closed doors. It’s a shame too, because there’s a lot of talent in front of the camera at work here.

Daniel Brühl, David Oyelowo, Chris O’ Dowd, and Ziyi Zhang round out the crew manning this space station, but they’re relegated to the most cliché of science-fiction roles — stupid scientists. Here are a group of people who exist in a world beyond the reaches of common sense, a place where the cultural touchstone of the science-fiction horror film is non-existent, and therefore its warnings are absent as well.

It all results in terribly boring film-making, with each scene feeling like an amalgamation of better, more competently executed science-fiction films. None of this is helped by the dreadful writing, featuring lengthy pieces of exposition-laden dialogue and some unintentionally hilarious statements (“I think my arm is trying to write something” is a line uttered in this train-wreck).

In the middle of this are jarring scenes of Ava’s husband, who is on Earth during the initial Cloverfield invasion from the first “Cloverfield” movie. His time on screen consists of either him looking at a phone or saving a young girl and taking her to the convenient shelter his out-of-town friend isn’t using. It’s not that these snippets of film are just bad, it’s that they are also so wildly unnecessary. They stop any attempt at momentum the movie is trying to cultivate, and they leave the viewer with a sense of cinematic whiplash.

They’re also obviously shoe-horned into the movie as a last-ditch effort to tie this cinematic universe together and save what was obviously a scrapped science-fiction mess. It doesn’t help that the relationship between Ava and her husband, the engine that is supposed to drive this film forward, is plagued by underwriting and poor acting.

There have been rumblings in the industry of this movie’s existence, formally titled “God Particle,” for some time now. Some executive in a suit must have come up with the (admittedly) clever idea of saving what they could from the original project by tying it into the “Cloverfield” universe, but the result is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a movie that can never solidify its own intentions and identity.

Any attempt at either narrative the film tries to push ends up feeling stilted in addition to poorly executed. It would be fine if there were two halves of individually good movies working against each other here, but that isn’t the case. Instead, what we’re left with is two mediocre projects fused together, forced to exist in the same narrative space, much like the overlapping of dimensions the film ironically portrays.

Thanks to its unusual release and the ubiquitous presence of Netflix, I imagine more people will see this than anyone originally attached to the project would have dreamed of after its becoming stuck in a developmental quagmire. However, for both fans of the “Cloverfield” universe and innovative release strategies in the era of digital streaming, “The Cloverfield Paradox” is a prime example of why things might want to stick to the way they’ve always been.