Despite some ingenious marketing techniques (teasing an April release in theaters before officially revealing Netflix had bought it to distribute about two hours after telling the world it would be available–in February), this is probably the worst film in the “Cloverfield” franchise and can’t hold a candle to “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the second and by far best film in the series. Since Netflix likely knew it had an underwhelming mess on its hands, it was pretty sharp to forgo an expensive traditional marketing roll-out at least somewhat reliant on pre-release “buzz” and reviews, and just dump it immediately so the initial whirl of excitment would be enough to make you want to watch.
What Works: Is there a more consistently disappointing genre than the space station/spaceship/alien planet sci-fi film? Yet no matter how many “Alien” knock-offs we see—and I’ve seen a lot of them, including the most recent “Alien” films—there’s something irresistible about the genre, so that I can guarantee that the next time I see a trailer for “The Mars Project” or “A Silent Scream” or whatever the hell it is, I’m probably going to say “when does that come out?” and temporarily forget that I haven’t truly enjoyed a space-themed movie since “Interstellar,” and that’s largely because it had nothing to do with the horror/thriller conventions that have trapped the genre.
There’s just something wondrous you keep hoping will be fulfilled, and I can at least report that “Paradox” has a few ideas behind it. Sure, they’re a mess—we’re clearly seeing several scripts reappropriated into a “Cloverfield” movie, and not nearly as effectively as “Cloverfield Lane”—but you’ll still hear sci-fi jargon about solving an energy crisis, opening up alternate dimensions, matter from two different dimensions fighting to occupy the same space, espionage between Germany and Russia, and a couple of inventive astronaut death scenes, which may be all the audience for this movie really wants.
What Doesn’t: The film has a deceptively intriguing cast, as you may notice (as I have) that German-actor Daniel Bruhl and Zhang Ziyi (a lovelier image than actress) are usually blander than the material they’re starring in. While David Oyelowo, Chris O’Dowd, and John Ortiz quickly embrace their blander instincts in cliched roles like “Straight-laced commander of the mission,” “comic relief,” and “concerned medical doctor.” Gugu Mbatha-Raw has been singled out for a strong performance, but really only expresses “horror” with the same open-mouthed confused face. [The always-intriguing Elizabeth Debicki is the only actor here who can generate any real interest.]
And the bigger problem is that the film’s more unique elements—a sentient severed arm, two spaceships occupying the same space, slipping into a dimension where the Earth has disappeared—aren’t explored enough to fully make sense. You might wonder “Wait–why did the Earth disappear if they stumbled into a dimension with a different Earth?” And then you might figure out you really don’t care before investigating further.
What I Would Have Done Differently: From all indications, Paramount is just glad to be rid of this thing, but let’s hope the upcoming “Cloverfield 4” (a period piece set in a Nazi-occupied village where some very strange things are happening) is much, much better. To be, it’ll need to pick one plot that it consistently explores rather than cobbling together 3 different space station movies in hopes one will be good enough.