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THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is a Tight Sci-Fi Thriller Elevated by its Cast (Review)

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX is a Tight Sci-Fi Thriller Elevated by its Cast (Review)

Julius Onah’s The Cloverfield Paradox has had quite a journey to our screens. It’s been in production since 2012 as The God Particle, kicking off under the guise of being completely unconnected to the Cloverfield franchise (much like 10 Cloverfield Lane before it). Four years later, it was announced as the third in J.J. Abrams’ quickly expanding science fiction anthology franchise before apparently falling into development hell with multiple release date changes.

Personally, I’ve been desperate for the movie’s release since the announcement of Gugu Mbatha-Raw and David Oyelowo’s casting. (Science fiction is often homogeneously white, and God Particle promised a more realistic and representative take on the genre.) So as I sat covering the Super Bowl, I was utterly delighted to see the trailer for The Cloverfield Paradox pop up, and even more intrigued when it was confirmed that it would release on Netflix that very same evening. All at once, my long wait for this movie was over!

The Cloverfield Paradox is a beautiful film—the kind of film you enjoyed so much on Netflix that wish you could see it in theaters. As we venture into the depths of the Cloverfield space station by way of cinematographer Dan Mindel’s sleek photography, you can’t help but imagine how the movie might’ve looked on the big screen. Meanwhile, the film’s references are loving and well thought out, while the original direction and diverse cast keep you from ever feeling like you’re watching something that’s been done before.

Space travel has long been the stuff of speculative fiction nightmares, and The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t shy away from the potential horrors of the future. We are introduced to the crew of the Cloverfield after meeting Gugu Mbatha-Raw and her partner who quickly let us know that Earth is in the midst of a massive energy crisis. Gugu’s Ava has the chance to embark on an international mission to harness a massive power source on the outskirts of the Earth’s atmosphere. Things quickly go awry as the ship’s particle accelerator creates a massive power surge, flinging Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Brühl, Aksel Hennie, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, and Zhang Ziyi into a surreal environment where everything and anything is apparently possible.

At its best, The Cloverfield Paradox is a fantastically tense locked room mystery in space, playing off complex concepts like quantum entanglement theory. In its weaker moments, it’s a solid sci-fi that leans heavily into the giants who’ve walked before it, whether it’s the suspicion and paranoia of The Thing or the brutal industrial body horror of Tetsuo the Iron Man. The film’s true strength comes from its vision and incredibly strong cast.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a revelation,  thoroughly deserving of leading lady status as a modern take on Alien‘s Ripley. Though introductions for the rest of the cast are rushed, we get to know the characters through subtle moments rarely explored in other genre movies, like the realities inherent in having an international crew when the world is on the brink of an impending apocalyptic crisis. The brevity of the exposition actually adds to the tight narrative, and each character winds up bringing something to the ensemble.

If J.J. Abrams intends the Cloverfield universe to be a Twilight Zone-esque episodic drama, then The Cloverfield Paradox is a fantastic addition. The film works as a singular entity that hints at a larger world while managing to tell a classic story that lovingly looks back at movies like Alien and Event Horizon without ever truly committing to the horror aspects of either. There’s a reading of the film that explodes the entirety of the Cloverfield lore and timeline, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.

If The Cloverfield Paradox fails anywhere, it’s in its minimalism. It’s an incredibly slick space thriller, and though it does add to the greater lore of the Cloverfield universe, it could arguably have been just as successful a story without belonging to that particular canon. While the film satisfied my need for inclusive, exciting, and intimate science fiction, I can see how for some it may play it a little too safe to be truly revolutionary. But if you’re looking for a tight and engaging genre movie with a radical Black female lead, this film succeeds on almost every level.

Rating: 4 burritos

Images: Netflix

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