Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Joseph Kosinski was the man who took us back to the grid with 2010’s Tron: Legacy. While remaining in the sci-fi realm, he heads in another direction, bringing audiences a post-apocalyptic vision of Earth where the last man left is Tom Cruise.
Cruise plays Jack Harper, a technician in charge of maintaining the drones that patrol Earth, the planet having been nearly destroyed by an alien invasion 60 years earlier. Jack lives and works with Victoria (Riseborough), but is mostly occupied with dreams of a mysterious woman he has never met but somehow remembers. In the wreck of a crash-landed spaceship, Harper discovers Julia Rusakova (Kurylenko), whom he identifies as the woman in his dreams. Jack also comes across a rag-tag gang of survivors led by Malcolm Beech (Freeman), who helps him realise that there’s a massive conspiracy afoot and that the life he and Victoria have been living isn’t all it seems.
Oblivion is ostensibly an adaptation of a graphic novel Kosinksi and writer Arvid Nelson worked on that has been delayed and is yet to be published. The film is, first and foremost, quite the visual experience. Claudio Miranda, recent Oscar winner for Life of Pi, is the director of photography and manages to find the beautiful in the desolate. A lot of contemporary sci-fi films tend to be hyper-kinetic, stuffed to the gills with quick cuts and stylistic flourishes. Oblivion is thus very refreshing, possessing a rare, quiet grandeur and a look that combines sleek and shiny futuristic designs with the vastness of a ravaged earth. We do get some cool action sequences on top of that, most notably an intense dogfight in which Jack in his “bubbleship” craft is pursued by a pack of vicious drones.
This is very much the Tom Cruise show, the Jack Harper character receiving the lion’s share of storytelling attention. Here, Cruise shows yet again why he’s managed to maintain considerable longevity as a big-name movie star – he’s an actor who can command attention. At the hands of a lesser performer, it’s likely that Jack Harper might blend into his bleak surroundings. Olga Kurylenko does the “mysterious exotic figure” thing well and Andrea Riseborough has a sexy/playful scene in which she takes a night swim all siren-like. What’s nice about the characterisation is that neither female lead is a guns-blazing Ellen Ripley-esque cliché. However, nobody really gets much development beyond Harper himself; this reviewer wishes that we learnt more about Beech and his gang of survivors, who tend to feel a bit Mad Max-ish at times.
The film’s central plot twist is pretty much par for the course when it comes to science fiction storytelling devices and it also wraps up a little too neatly when a degree of ambiguity might have done it some good. There are a few interesting elements that spice up the ending and in the end, it doesn’t feel like a cop-out, nor does it undermine anything that went before (as twist endings often can).
Oblivion is the sort of film that’s probably a lot less contemplative than it seems, and while it isn’t particularly engaging on a story or character level, the world that Kosinki and his team have constructed is a masterpiece (enhanced by M83’s atmospheric techno score) and it just pulls the viewer in. While it may not be as deep or thought-provoking as it could have been and might come off feeling too clinical for some, it is still far from superficial and empty and has a fair bit for genre fans to like.
SUMMARY: Wonderful to look at and soak in, Oblivion has a calmness about it that’s hard to find in mainstream sci-fi, but it’s bogged down a tad by narrative loopholes and a less-than-compelling human element.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 STARS