The typical Super Bowl movie trailer ad features big stars and big action and a long-term promise, e.g., “THIS SUMMER!”
Super Bowl LII was no different, with high-octane ads for “Avengers: Infinity War” and “”Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and Other Movies: With Colons in the Title — but we also got a trailer for “The Cloverfield Paradox,” and that was a little bit … different.
Oh, the trailer itself was slick and cool and mysterious, reminding us what happened with “Cloverfield” 10 years ago and giving us a brief glimpse of a dismembered arm crawling on its own (!) toward crew members on a space station — but the closing title casually told us the movie would be streaming on Netflix immediately after the game.
Was it a clever marketing ploy by Netflix, or a slick way of dumping the highly anticipated, shrouded-in-mystery, third chapter in the “Cloverfield” franchise, after the original in 2008 and the sort-of sequel “10 Cloverfield Lane” in 2016?
It certainly was an attention-getter, and for this reviewer it felt like a surprise and welcome dessert coming after the daylong Super Bowl buffet — so as soon as the game was over, I popped over to Netflix, cued up “The Cloverfield Paradox” and settled in for …
The buildup was suitably mysterious, and the final scene carried a little sting to it.
The cinematography and production values were cool and slick and impressive.
There were some fine performances from a wonderful, international cast led by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Bruhl, Elizabeth Debicki and Chris O’Dowd.
But it was all for naught, as “The Cloverfield Paradox” as a whole played out like a B-movie echo of far superior films such, most notably the “Alien” franchise.
As noted, this entry takes place after the events of “Cloverfield,” a found-footage film that eventually reveals an alien monster is destroying New York.
The great majority of the film is set aboard an international space station. Back on Earth, an energy crisis has the planet on the brink of World War III.
“Government sources tell us the world’s energy resources will be exhausted within five years,” says a news report.
It’s the crew’s mission to activate a particle accelerator known as the Shepherd. Over two years, there have been nearly 50 attempts to make it work, but all have failed. There’s only enough fuel left for three more attempted “firings” of the accelerator, so we’re told. But if they can make it work, the world will be saved!
So we’re told.
Aboard the ship: Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Hamilton, a grieving mother whose husband is back home. Daniel Bruhl is Schmidt, a German who doesn’t trust the Russian Volkov (Aksel Hennie), and vice versa. Ziyi Zhang is Tam, John Ortiz is Monk, Elizabeth Debicki is Jensen and Chris O’Dowd is Mundy.
There’s a lot of bickering and secret alliances and arguing about strategies on the ship. Meanwhile, we catch a glimpse of one Mark Stambler (Donal Logue) on TV, warning that igniting the accelerator means the crew risks “opening up the membrane of space-time, smashing together multiple dimensions, shattering reality — not just on that station, but everywhere.”
Whoa! That sounds serious. Also, how is Mark Stambler related to John Goodman’s Howard Stambler from “10 Cloverfield Lane”?
When the crew finally succeeds in igniting that accelerator, let’s just say things get really, really, REALLY strange, in ways mind-bending and provocative and just plain dopey.
For one thing, the Earth seems to disappear. (“The Earth is gone!” cries one character, just to make sure we notice.)
We get some “Alien”-type gross-out stuff, the sudden appearance of a character who wasn’t on the ship earlier — and poor Mundy finds himself separated from one of his arms, which seems to have a mind of its own.
This gives O’Dowd the opportunity to reel off the following lines:
• “Where’s my arm?”
• “There’s my f—ing arm.”
• “What are you talking about, arm?”
• “I think my arm is trying to write something!”
At which point the crew scrambles to find a pen, so the arm can indeed write something.
At this point, there is no turning back. “The Cloverfield Paradox” — which had its origins as an original screenplay with no connection to the franchise, and often plays that way — has become a mildly entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking but ultimately ludicrous deep space thriller.
Somewhere along the development trail, someone in charge should have said:
Arm! Get me a rewrite, arm!
Netflix presents a film directed by Julius Onah and written by Oren Uziel. No MPAA rating. Running time: 102 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix.