I won’t lie. Oblivion looked pretty awesome from the trailers and I had expected a lot. Which might explain why the film was kind of disappointing. It’s perfectly adequate and beautiful to look at, with moments of tension and occasional thrills. But in the end, it is a film that falls way short of its lofty ambitions and does little to separate itself from other post-apocalyptic sci-fi flicks in recent years.
It is no surprise that the film was directed and co-written by Joseph Kosinski, who made his silver screen debut with Tron: Legacy in 2010, another sci-fi flick that values style over substance. Kosinski’s background is in CGI commercials, including for video games Halo and Gears of War, and he definitely brings that video game feel to Oblivion.
The story is told largely through the point of view of Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a technician who fixes drones on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been rendered uninhabitable following the attack of an alien race. Harper resides in a futuristic home with his mission and personal partner (Andrea Riseborough), who maintains regular contact with a woman (Melissa Leo) from headquarters.
Not surprisingly, things start to fall apart for Jack following an encounter with Scanvengers and a frightening discovery. He starts to wonder if everything he believes is real, and whether the reality he knows is an illusion. I don’t need to say much more, but you can already tell from the brief summary that Oblivion has a fairly typical sci-fi storyline about one man’s search for the truth, and that truth is probably what you suspected all along.
I guess that’s where my problem with the film lay. While it had its fair share of action-packed moments, including several high-speed chases and explosive gunfights, the film travelled at what felt like an intentionally slowed pace so it would come across as more of a “thinking man’s” sci-fi movie. But the thing is, the more I thought about the movie the less sense it made, and the less clever and creative it felt. It just wasn’t as original or intelligent or “different” as it thought it was or wanted to be. The plot twists were also rather predictable and the ending was overdone.
That said, it didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie, which did have its moments. Tom Cruise, notwithstanding all his crazy shenanigans off camera, is his usual solid self and delivers a performance that carries the film throughout. I particularly liked his interactions with Riseborough, and thought he had much more chemistry with her than with Olga Kurylenko, who appears midway through the film. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, felt like a poor casting choice, mainly because his star power meant he would get some screen time in the trailers, which is essentially a big spoiler, and also because that damn voice is so recognisable. Also underused was Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), who plays one of Freeman’s henchmen.
The film placed a strong emphasis on visuals, with sweeping landscapes, cool-looking machines and gadgets. All that is good stuff, but it’s a shame the screenplay couldn’t make the film more engaging from an emotional and intellectual standpoint. A lot of questions were left unanswered and the questions that were (kind of) answered didn’t have impact I had been hoping for. In the end, I’d say Oblivion was perfectly adequate, but by no means a sci-fi classic or even one of the more memorable sci-fi films I’ve seen in the past decade.
3 out of 5