Netflix Scores With Surprisingly Playful "Cloverfield Paradox"

“The Cloverfield Paradox” will never be remembered as anything but the movie Netflix bought off Paramount Pictures and abruptly released immediately following Super Bowl LII; the derivative “Cloverfield” prequel feasted upon by grumpy critics given no advance access or notice but a thirty-second spot and a hastily composed press release during the big game. Indeed, the list of titles the film borrows from is too long to catalog here, its familiar sci-fi horror bent set to invade living rooms like a houseguest so comfortable they’ve taken to rearranging furniture.

Except, when in this dimension or any other has grown-up sci-fi melded with lightspeed pacing and honest-to-God laughs? It’s not always a natural fit, but the frequently precise silliness of “The Cloverfield Paradox” – not to mention its killer cast – deserves a permanent spot on many a Netflix subscriber’s List.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Concussion”) stars as Ava Hamilton, one of seven crew members aboard the Cloverfield space station. She, Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Kiel (David Oyelowo), Monk (John Ortiz), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd), Tam (Zhang Ziyi), and Volkov (Aksel Hennie) have been tasked with testing a dangerous particle accelerator in hopes of curbing a global energy crisis. At long last they create a stable beam, but their burgeoning personal baggage (Ava’s marriage is on the rocks after the loss of their children to a house fire) dovetails with a startling, Rod Serling-esque revelation: Earth has vanished.

From here, an admittedly familiar space movie grows increasingly kooky, upshifting into the kind of mystery box-isms to be expected from a J.J. Abrams-produced series. But unlike the ultimately fruitless twists of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” “Paradox” has a delirious mind of its own. Like Mundy’s curiously independent severed arm.

Director Julius Onah and writers Oren Uziel and Doug Jung make no bones about their film leading directly into the events of Matt Reeves’ original film. As the Cloverfield crew accidentally finds itself trapped in a warped new dimension, Ava’s husband Michael (Roger Davies) skitters about back home, on the run from the mysterious monsters that first invaded multiplexes almost exactly ten years ago. It’s a fun nod to the series’ roots, building on but not over-explaining them.

Nevertheless, the lion’s share of the pic’s fun occurs in space. By the time Brühl’s Schmidt loudly bemoans the perils of “quantum entanglement,” Onah and his writers have drawn their line in the sand; theirs is not a serious movie. It possesses no unearned air of self-importance like last year’s dreadful “Life,” no penchant for the coy narrative leaps of “10 Cloverfiend Lane” – only a taste for audiovisual bombast (Bear McCreary’s score is most memorable) and a wicked sense of humor.

Its only aim is to make us jump, make us laugh, and send us off with a thrilling final shot that’s everything a “Cloverfield” fan could want from a prequel – screen size notwithstanding.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: February 4, 2018
Studio: Netflix, Paramount Pictures
Director: Julius Onah
Screenwriter: Oren Uziel, Doug Jung
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, Chris O’Dowd, Elizabeth Debicki, Ziyi Zhang, Aksel Hennie, John Ortiz