The latest in the sci-fi franchise is a misjudged mash-up starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and David Oyelowo
Enthusiasts of the JJ Abrams-produced Cloverfield franchise were kept in the dark about this instalment, which was supposedly destined for cinemas in April. But in a brilliant marketing stroke tens of millions of people watching the Super Bowl in the US saw a surprise ad announcing the film would be streaming on Netflix immediately after the game. Thus an event was made of a cinematic sow's ear.
An international cast of astronauts – heroine Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), courageous commander (David Oyelowo) and crewmates including Daniel Brühl, Zhang Ziyi (speaking only Mandarin) and Chris O'Dowd, playing the flight specialist in absurd one-liners – attempt to activate an orbital particle accelerator that will provide unlimited clean energy to an Earth where resources are depleted and starvation and oil wars are escalating. Sabotage, paranoia and catastrophe strike, stranding the crew for gruesome shocks and Alien-esque creepiness in corridors, as the cast dwindles and Elizabeth Debicki makes a memorably startling appearance on board.
Unintentionally (one assumes), this is funnier than The Orville was supposed to be – a space opera / horror / thriller mash-up that clutches ineffectually at philosophical and socio-political profundity while pastiching familiar sci-fi tropes and saddling a gamely sombre ensemble with lines like, 'We didn't destroy the Earth… we just lost it.'
It's particularly frustrating because director Julius Onah and cinematographer Dan Mindel do a spiffing job with the action sequences and give us beautiful spacescapes, neat little visual details and some subtle character differences as the astronauts find themselves in an alternate reality. There is also a mighty good score from genre fave Bear McCreary. It's the screenplay that thrashes around confusingly between timelines, spouting pseudo-scientific techno-babble and parallel dimension hooey, and sporting gaping holes in logic, sloppy sentimentality and shameless nonsense (like a disembodied arm that busily evokes Thing from The Addams Family).
As a final groan there is a sting in the tale that loosely connects this opus to the original Cloverfield, although whether it suggests this is a prequel or the three films are alternative 'Cloververse' nightmares remains a topic for debate.
Available to watch now on Netflix.