Movie Review: Oblivion
By Shalimar Sahota
April 16, 2013
By mixing the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, I Am Legend, and Moon into a blender, Oblivion should taste like one of the best sci-fi films ever. Instead, it tastes like chicken… unmarinated.
Set in 2077, half of the Earth has been left destroyed following a nuclear war with an alien species referred to as Scavengers. The humans won (yay!), but an unstable planet resulted in a most of the population being evacuated to a space station known as the TET (um… yay?). Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the few stationed on Earth, a drone repairman patrolling the skies. His partner Victoria (Angela Riseborough) is a comms officer who guides him through the air and reports to their superior, Sally (Melissa Leo), at Mission Control. It’s all peachy, till one day Jack rescues the mysterious Julia (Olga Kurylenko) from a crashed space pod. Then things start to go a bit weird.
So quickly does writer/director Joseph Kosinski wish to transport the viewer to his world that he shoves us basic background information as to why the Earth is the way it is, narrated to us by Jack while he pilots his Bubbleship. Unfortunately we don’t see any flashbacks of this war or its immediate aftermath, which might help when it comes to digesting the story and the characters. “We won the war,” says Jack. “Why do we have to leave?” A good question that is haphazardly answered.
The opening half hour proudly proves to the audience that they will be getting spectacle. Desolate scenery and the remnants of iconic structures do look eerily glorious. The beautifully designed Bubbleship by Wildfactory is just as much a star of the film. The sound is also incredible. However, it is an opening that feels largely uneventful. Jack fixes a drone, fights off Scavengers and gets some action, but interest does not peak until Julia comes crashing down.
Performing some of his own stunts at 50-years-old, Cruise still looks the business. Being in almost every scene means that this is largely Cruise’s show, so it helps that we share his character’s curiosity. The only difference is that Jack Harper probably hasn’t seen as much sci-fi as we have (he probably doesn’t have a DVD player). Haunted by memories that involve him meeting Julia at the Empire State building, Jack is longing for the past. After investigating a public library for a missing drone, he picks up a book, Lays of Ancient Rome (I imagine Kindles and iPads were destroyed in the war, too). It’s one of the few moments where it looks like Oblivion might offer a little more substance to chew on.
Olga Kurylenko as Julia is merely a plot motivator (on more than one occasion). Underwritten to keep up the mystery, her role mostly involves following Jack around. Victoria also meets Julia and behaves exactly as expected (“I want her gone first thing”). Played by Angela Riseborough, Victoria is a weird one. Her actions are predictable, but she brilliantly displays clear discomfort while trying to remain calm. Oddly she never feels the need to step out and explore the Earth and would rather live a Big Brother existence in the sky tower she’s cooped up in. All she cares about is the mission.
Trailers and posters would have you know that Morgan Freeman is playing someone of importance, Malcolm Beech, the leader of a group of survivors. In reality he’s barely in it and doesn’t really add much to such a bitty role. The trailers may also mislead you into expecting a fair share of thrills and explosions; yet, during the two hour run time there are only three main action set pieces. Tron Legacy proved that Kosinski should really excel here, but the only heightened bit of excitement comes when Jack and Julia are outrunning and shooting down drones in that Bubbleship.
Oblivion is obviously building up to some big secrets. Midway through you realize that those secrets have been wrapped in cling film, for when they are revealed they’re more expected than surprising. Knowing as little as possible upon entering, it wasn’t all that hard to see where this was going. Granted, this’ll probably be down to just what kind of sci-fi you’ve grown up with, but as soon as Victoria says, “our job is not to remember," for me, another piece of the puzzle slotted into place earlier than Kosinski might have wanted.
Even after it’s over, it still feels like there’s a gaping hole. Technically it excels and visually it is epic, but it is far from the brain food I’d been hoping for. Kosinski has admitted that the film is a homage to sci-fi films of the 1970s, yet what may have been revolutionary then is merely canon now and with Oblivion the ingredients are the same. Basically, in 40 years time, no one will make a film and then call it a homage to Oblivion.
Despite having a strong cast and expensive toys and at his disposal, Kosinski has not added anything new to his mixture, resulting in a blockbuster that goes over familiar territory. Oblivion is certainly intriguing, but it is also very normal.