Starring: Tom Cruise (Collateral), Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), Andrea Riseborough (Welcome to the Punch), Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Director: Joseph Koskinski (Tron: Legacy)
Writers: Karl Gajdusek (Trespass) and Michael Debruyn
Runtime: 2 hours 6 minutes
Release Date: 10 April (UK), 19 April (US)
Oblivion tells the tale of Jack Harper (Cruise), a droid repairman working on a post-apocalyptic Earth. But things aren’t all as they seem as he gets thrown into an adventure that reveals the truth about the world and himself. Is Oblivion a new sci-fi classic, or is it much less intelligent than it suggests?
The film’s plot is well told and thought out. The world is interesting and has an original visual aesthetic of a dead Earth. The film is, at first at least, a slow-burner, bringing to mind more traditional sci-fi films like 2001. But by the third act, the film strays more into modern sci-fi tropes. By no means is this a bad thing; in fact, once the curtain had been pulled back on exactly what is going on I really got into the movie. There are enough twists in the movie for it to remain intriguing, though some are obvious even from the first few minutes if you’re paying attention. The film’s epilogue is a little confused and feels like there might have been some studio tampering there, but otherwise the plot makes sense, moves at a decent clip and remains entertaining throughout. The main problem with Oblivion is that it isn’t as original as it thinks it is. Whilst the film does tackle many of its sci-fi concepts in its own way, so many of them have been done before. Elements are clearly taken from several other sci-fi films such as Total Recall, Moon, WALL-E and Planet of the Apes (I’ll let you figure out what those elements are). There are some interesting new ideas that I found fascinating, but I can’t reveal them for spoilers sake. Eventually it got a bit tiring going “Oh, it’s like_______”, and I was hoping the film would have some new ideas beyond the visuals.
Tom Cruise still manages to keep going making blockbuster after blockbuster despite most men of his age either retiring to dramas or joining The Expendables. Love him or hate him, he always gets the job done and does exactly what you want from a protagonist. He doesn’t exactly go beyond the material he’s working with considering the archetypical nature of his character, but he works as a hero that has enough humanity to get behind his motivation. Morgan Freeman isn’t in the film as much as the marketing wants you to think he is, but he gives the performance you’d expect from him. Olga Kurylenko fares decently, but she lacks enough charisma for her to truly stand out for such a pivotal character. Andrea Riseborough gives the breakthrough performance here, bringing what could be such a typical character beyond the material and make her role as memorable as she possibly can. I can’t say much of Melissa Leo for fear of spoilers, but her Southern drawl got grating by the end of the film.
Whether you liked or loathed Tron: Legacy, I think we can all admit it looked beautiful. Director Joseph Koskinski brings that same visual eye to Oblivion, making a gorgeous looking picture out of a desolate landscape. The design of everything feels very slick and stark, blaringly standing out amongst the grimy setting of much of the film, though I will say that much of it would have felt more at home in a video game like Mass Effect or Portal. The cinematography is stupendous, the sound effects blisteringly rocky, and the visual effects are seamlessly integrated and feel much more natural than most blockbusters of this ilk. The film’s score is very reminiscent of Daft Punk’s score for Tron: Legacy, the tone of which definitely works here as well. Koskinski is obviously much more of a visual director than one of actors, but when everything he does looks this pretty it’s hard to complain.
In the end, Oblivion is a gorgeous piece of cinema that excels in the technical department, but falters in creating a truly original story. Despite some uncredited work from the great Michael Arndt (who will tackling sci-fi again soon with Star Wars Episode VII), the plot here just feels too much like an amalgam of other ideas. Well-executed and well-implemented ideas, but unoriginal ones nonetheless. I think this film will be as divisive as Tron: Legacy was but, as a defender of the aforementioned film, I think I sit on the positive end of the spectrum despite my complaints. Koskinski has a bright future in the film industry; he just needs to find a script that clicks to use as a sturdy foundation, and then use his visual imagination to build upon it.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10