Tom Cruise! Spaceships! Robots (well, drones)! Explosions! Destruction of Earth! Where could it possibly go wrong for Joseph Kosinksi’s Oblivion? Freyja suggests right around the beginning of the third act.
Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion, based on a graphic novel treatment he co-wrote, is set in the not-sodistant future, after the world has been all but destroyed in a war between Earth and the alien Scavs.
The film follows drone repairman Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) monitoring and repairing equipment set up to provide power for a human colony on Titan. They are seemingly the last two people on Earth and only have two weeks to go before their mission is complete. Only two weeks? Well, obviously, everything is going to go swimmingly, right?
Then Julie shows up.
Much has been said of Oblivion ‘borrowing’ from other great sci-fi movies and you can’t deny some very recognisable shots and ideas. Name-checking them here would be a little spoiler heavy, but just know they are there. Perhaps you can make a game of spotting them?
Cruise’s Harper reminds us why Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. Not Tom Cruise the media circus act, but Tom Cruise the crowd-winning film hero. He plays his part really well, rounding out a character who is struggling to find answers in the world whilst also kicking ass. Not to mention his heart-warming scenes with Bob. You’ll see Tom Cruise the action star, Tom Cruise the romancer, Tom Cruise the pained, Tom Cruise the gardener, Tom Cruise the confused, Tom Cruise the smile. You will be fully Tom Cruised.
Olga Kurylenko does well enough as Julie. However, the character is too undeveloped to evoke the emotional attachment the filmmakers seem to want from the audience. One is expected to immediately be on side with her and really feel for her. But her story arc is almost non-existent and the actress never quite seems to have enough to sink her teeth into. Whilst integral to the story, she is almost a bum note, thinly written and a little dull.
Riseborough’s Vic on the other hand is beautiful. And I’m not talking physically (although she is). She is such a complex character: awkward yet loving, a rule-follower yet a fighter, stern yet empathetic. And, boy, does Riseborough know how to time a tear. She rides the line in between main and supporting character and you’re not really sure if you’re meant to root for her, but you do. Her final scene is unexpected but perfectly judged. Her character would be easily overlooked but she is a true stand out of the film.
The cinematography is striking. One can only imagine the fun Claudio Miranda had building this futuristic world, lots of clean lines and technical designs, in amongst the never-ending deserts and destructed world. The special effects are perfectly integrated, impressive and a little breath-taking. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, read up on how they replaced blue screen with 21 projectors and a large muslin backdrop. It’s pretty cool.
Action-wise, it isn’t as full blown explody as one might expect. Not to say there aren’t terrific chases, buildings collapsing and bullets flying everywhere; it’s just there is a lot of time dedicated to not blowing things up too. The high octane action set pieces are limited. One scene that really didn’t work was a chase scene involving Harper, Julie and some unhappy drones. It was hard to feel the tension with Harper and Julie sat in a flying ship. Aside from Harper’s arm moving slightly to drive the vehicle, watching them sat stationary just doesn’t have the same impact as seeing someone running, jumping and fleeing for their life.
The film is ultimately let down by its plot. The initial premise does stand out on its own and the first half (maybe even two thirds) has the potential to do something interesting and really play with the genre. However as the story picks up, it stumbles into very familiar territory. The premise could have been ace but the three big reveals are obvious, as if pulled straight out of a ‘how to win over test audiences’ hat. The second half feels like a different movie, something added on because “these are the things that happen in films.” And trust me, you’ll recognise a lot of them.
Kosinki needs to pick a side: action-adventure blockbuster to impress the masses or contemplative indie-piece, beautiful and slow. Then perhaps he could have dedicated enough time to bring the story up to scratch with the other pieces of the film.
Flimsy, predictable and beautiful to look at. If you like a bit of thought mixed in with mindless action and Tom Cruise, grab some popcorn and don’t expect too much. If you like your sci-fi as high-octane as Transformers, or as intellectual as Moon, stay away.
Oblivion is out now.