'Cloverfield Paradox': What the Critics Are Saying

The Cloverfield Paradox enjoyed one of the most inventive rollouts a movie could have, with Netflix announcing during the Super Bowl that the J.J. Abrams-produced project would be available for streaming after the game. Social media was abuzz about the development that saw Paramount move the project to Netflix at the 11th hour and gave the streaming service a shot at competing with broadcast TV's lucrative post-Super Bowl slot. 

Critics (and presumably, Super Bowl viewers) flocked to Netflix following the game, but many of those reviewers were not pleased by what they found. In general, critics had praise for the cast of director Julius Onah's film, including David Oyelowo, Chris O’Dowd, Zhang Ziyi and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. But it wasn't enough to redeem the project about a group of astronauts who conduct an experiment in hopes of providing free energy for the world. Cloverfield Paradox sat at 18 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as of Monday evening.

The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore calls it a "trainwreck of a sci-fi flick bent on extending a franchise that should have died a peaceful death almost exactly one decade ago."

"Dumped by Netflix in a high-profile but logistically poisoned post-Super Bowl time slot, it comes with a built-in excuse: If most viewers are snoring on the couch by the half-hour mark, maybe it's because they've spent several hours guzzling beer and eating chicken wings? A theatrical release would likely have been disastrous for this dud; with any luck, it will be forgotten amid tomorrow's hangovers," the review reads.

DeFore notes that the film just doesn't hold up compared to the genre's sci-fi greats: "In Paradox, one is mostly struck by the need to push Alien and a half-dozen similar films from our minds, in the hopes of giving a damn about the sub-par space-station action before us. Seeming to understand how underwhelming the drama is, Onah stages some of his pivotal crew debates off-camera, letting us listen to colleagues bicker while we watch, say, CG footage of the station's moving parts."

As for viewers curious how the film fits into the previous installments — 2008's Cloverfield and 2016's 10 Cloverfield LaneThe Atlantic's David Simms reports there's not much to be excited about, writing the film has "been bizarrely shoehorned in to J.J. Abrams’s nebulous Cloverfield franchise (which now consists of three films made in the last 10 years) with next to no narrative justification."

The Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang questions if there's enough Cloverfield connective tissue for franchise fans to dig into: "Die-hard Cloverfield conspiracy theorists can distract themselves by figuring out this story's relationship with the other two films, even if the connections feel vague and scattershot at best. And even self-identifying fans may be dispirited by the degree to which the movie plays like a retread of innumerable other science-fiction thrillers, including the Alien movies, Event Horizon, Sunshine, Europa Report and last year's underappreciated Life, which died a premature death in theaters."

A fourth Cloverfield film is already on the way, but IndieWire's David Ehrlich wonders if the brand — "until yesterday a magic word capable of stirring excitement out of nothing — is now tainted beyond recognition."

He goes on to write: "The story spends 50 minutes establishing that matter is effectively re-writing itself, and then wastes the next 50 minutes watching the blandest astronauts of all time run around cheap sets and yell fake jargon at each other about fictional spaceship parts."

The New York Times' Glenn Kenny notes that the premise — astronauts in a space station find Earth has disappeared from sight — is not as interesting as it might seem: "Sounds intriguing, but the actual movie is strangely plain, eyesore-overlit and uselessly frantic. It devolves into clichéd 'I can’t let you do that' confrontations on its way to a trifling punch line. As a theatrical movie, it would have been a nonevent; as a Netflix event it is, to coin a phrase, fake news."

Io9's Germain Lussier praises the film's cast as well as its setup, but finds other elements falling short, writing, "From almost the first moment of the film, however, it’s obvious the world of the movie and the movie itself share something in common: They both lack energy. The film is incredibly flat, the structure is way too familiar, and almost all of the characters are paper-thin. There are a few cool sight gags and design choices, but beyond those, most of the film is an exercise in banality."

Vulture's David Edelstein notes that in a way, just as the film gets going, "things come screeching to a halt."

"No, that’s exactly wrong," he adds. "Things speed up too quickly, meaning just when the movie’s rhythms should become loopier and the action more eccentric, The Cloverfield Paradox becomes one more formulaic ticking-clock series of chases and shootings with a moral dilemma for pathos and then uplift. The dunderheaded ending involves a character yelling, 'Don’t come back!' as if people in a spaceship with limited power have anywhere else to go — Mars? Endor? LV426? The problem with retrofits is that they can’t spiral off in entertaining new directions. They have to come crashing back to Franchise-Land. Next up: the surprise release of the sure-to-be-best-selling The Cloverfield Diet."

Over at Thrillist, Jordan Hoffman makes this assessment of Netflix's Super Bowl surprise: "If this movie, either as The God Particle or The Cloverfield Paradox played in theaters it would have been roundly booed by critics and audiences alike. But as a surprise present on Netflix, it's absolutely more than serviceable in a 'bad movie night' way. I had a blast making fun of this, and I didn't spend anything on gas money or tickets. If I hadn't gorged myself during the Super Bowl I would have hit that last remaining bag of microwaveable popcorn in the back of the cabinet. This was a bold step in entertainment marketing and, even though the product itself is basically crap, it was still a win for Netflix and consumers. This time next year, when a supposed fourth Cloverfield movie is expected to hit theaters, let's just hope the surprise is of better quality."

CNN's Brian Lowry is less charitable in his take on the campaign: "Given Netflix credit where it's due: Launching the film in this fashion made its arrival feel like an event, instead of an afterthought. Simply put, a movie's release pattern shouldn't be the most interesting thing about it, and the stunt again invites the question — especially after the service's creative dud Bright — what aligning itself with expensive sci-fi misfires does to burnish the Netflix brand over the long haul."

The Cloverfield Paradox is said to have had behind-the-scenes woes, something that Slate's Sam Adams picks up on, writing it "has the earmarks of massive retooling."

"In the tacked-on opening scene, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Hamilton and her husband (Roger Davies) baldly outline the film’s premise while waiting in a snaking, 1970s-style line for gas," the review continues. "Next, a bizarre opening-credits sequence fast-forwards through nearly two years on the space station where Hamilton and her crew are experimenting with a particle accelerator in an attempt to solve the energy crisis that has brought humanity to the brink of collapse. Then a figure comes on a TV screen and talks about 'the Cloverfield paradox,' which appears to have nothing to do with either Cloverfield or paradoxes but does involve the danger of the space station’s technology opening up dimensional rifts and releasing 'monsters, demons, beasts from the sea.' (I am fairly sure no one involved with The Cloverfield Paradox knows what the word paradox means.)"

Not everyone was disappointed by the film. In one of the few positive reviews, Nerdist's Rosie Knight wrote that it's a shame viewers are not getting this film on the big screen, as it was intended: "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."