Directed by Joseph Kosinski.
Starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo and Zoe Bell.
A drone repairman stationed on a desolate future Earth becomes humanity’s last hope for survival following the arrival of a mystery woman.
Oblivion, the new sci-fi from writer/director/producer Joseph Kosinski (and director of Tron: Legacy), was, for me, an unfortunate mixed bag. While well-acted and very well-produced, the individual ingredients do not add up to a greater whole, with many parts of the film (such as a bloated running time, maudlin drama and overly familiar story elements bordering on cliché) dragging the film down.
First, the positive. Sci-fi lives or dies on its premise: without an interesting premise or hook (such as the time travel of Looper or the diverse world of Pandora in Avatar), the film will be unable to engage the audience and draw them into its story. Oblivion has a great premise.
Set on a war-ravaged, irradiated earth, with a shattered moon orbiting above, two humans are tasked with maintaining a fleet of military drones needed to protect huge power stations which are converting earth’s remaining resources to fuel a vast spaceship, the Tet, containing the remaining members of humanity. Pockets of alien resistance, called Scavs, remain on the earth, trying to sabotage this effort. Technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise, Minority Report) and comms officer Vicky Olsen (Andrea Riseborough, Made in Dagenham) have just two weeks left before they join humanity on the Tet, until their world view is unravelled when Jack finds another human survivor (Olga Kurylenko, Seven Psychopaths).
Saying any more would be to spoil what is, at the very least, an interesting plot that keeps you guessing as it twists and turns. While more observant and film literate viewers will probably be able to guess a few things very early on, the film does manage to throw up new story hooks and plot threads.
Carrying this along is a brilliant pair of performances from Cruise and Riseborough. Whatever you may think of Cruise as an actor or of his personal life, he is a charismatic leading man, who holds your attention through the movie. Similarly, Riseborough gives a confident performance that totally drew me in to the film, as I tried to decipher which side she was really on. Scenes between the pair are electric and tense.
The production of the film matches the ambition of its premise. You soon realise that the film is set around a destroyed New York, with familiar locations visible every now and then, but never made obvious or heavy-handedly pointed out. The depiction of the destroyed earth is evocative and bleak, and the film is not short of fantastic cinematography. The futuristic designs of Jack’s suit, hovercraft and apartment, as well as the intimidating drones, are all great, adding to the film’s visual vibrancy. The soundtrack, by M83, is also impressive, although not as evocative as Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron: Legacy.
However, that’s really where I run out of good things to say about the film. While it has a strong premise and great set-dressing, the actually core of the film, the story, eroded the goodwill I felt towards the film during its opening hour.
The film’s story borrows so heavily from the plots of other films, and not even from particularly old films, that it became distracting: a nagging sense of familiarity obscured what, if any, originality the film actually had. A genre-savy viewer will quickly detect story and design elements from 2001, Moon, Independence Day, The Terminator and The Matrix, to name just a few. The initial antagonists, the Scavs, look like invaders from a Predator movie, but leap around like the apes from The Planet of the Apes. It feels like the story has been bolted together from the plots of other stories. Even the character and arc of Jack Turner is basically the same as Wall-E from Wall-E, and lives in the apartment from The Jetsons cartoon.
Furthermore, while Cruise and Riseborough give good performances, their characters are actually quite bland, while Kurylenko and other members of the cast give rather dull performances. Perhaps they were hamstringed by how dull and clichéd their characters turn out to be.
The biggest sin of the movie is that it lacks narrative propulsion. When the plot gathers momentum or becomes exciting, Oblivion has a tendency to grind to a halt, in order to shove in some human drama, such as a forced romantic link between two central characters that is awkwardly revealed. This flab is unseemly, spoiling the film’s pacing and is simply aggravating to watch, especially as, I felt, the film didn’t do enough to make me care about these characters in the first place to warrant a romance subplot, and especially not at the expensive of the more interesting central mystery.
Overall, a disappointing film: its good acting is undercut by its bland, clichéd characters; interesting, original ideas are drowned out by much more familiar ideas borrowed from elsewhere; moments of great tension and excitement ruined by slow paced scenes of romance and repetitive flashbacks. A shame.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★