by Ken B.
Oblivion is a movie that spends 124 minutes with a very nice look and using good actors, but ultimately muddles around in the story department and manages to kill your interest multiple times. There is plenty to admire, but also much to be disappointed with. It is a simultaneously enjoyable and regrettable experience. The film is set in 2077, when a large interplanetary war has obliterated much of the world and destroyed the moon. Most surviving humans are relocated to Saturn’s moon Titan, on a large base called Tet. Tet commands the humans left on Earth, who maintain drones to keep the attackers, known as Scavs (as in scavengers) at bay. One of them is Jack (Tom Cruise), who lives in a large base named Tower 49 with his partner (both professional and domestic) Vika (Andrea Riseborough). While Jack is out working in the dangerous uninhabited remains of land, Vika works back at Tower 49, keeping in constant contact with both Jack and a representative for Tet (Melissa Leo), making sure that everything is in order.
For the longest time, Jack has had odd, unplacable flashbacks that haunt his dreams. He is on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, and there is a mysterious woman there with him. One day, when digging through the rubble, he discovers a person (Olga Kurylenko) encased in a metallic box. He takes her back to the tower, where he and Vika bring her back into consciousness. We learn that her name is Julia, she worked on the ship, and she is the only survivor. Jack soon realizes that this is the woman from his memory, and this serves as a jumping off point for the rest of the story, which features revolts, battles, clones, and other sci-fi goodness.
Oblivion is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who also wrote the unpublished graphic novel that it’s based on. He brings a really cool visual feel to the movie. Objects, like Tower 49 and various spacecrafts, have that kind of 2001-esque feel of solid colors (namely whites, silvers, and blacks) and defined shapes. The exteriors often look like something out of any disaster movie, with well known landmarks obliterated, towering above miles and miles of barren, desolate nothingness. Everything is shot efficiently by DP Claudio Miranda. The acting is good – Tom Cruise gives a reliable performance. While he does indeed play an action movie hero for what must be the several thousandth time, you can’t deny his precision in the area. Riseborough’s screen time is limited, especially as the film moves on, but she is effective in her scenes. Kurylenko gives a credible turn as the catalyst of the story. In a supporting role, Morgan Freeman plays one of the members of a human revolt, complete with a futuristic cloak and dark John Lennon-like goggles.
The main issue with Oblivion is the hit-or-miss nature of Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn’s script, which trades entertaining and professional sequences with long stretches of boredom and a lazy handling of the plot. This also impacts the pacing, which begins to feel bumpy and clumsy after the first 45 minutes. There’s no doubt that Oblivion’s story is fascinating and far more substantive than most straightforward action movies, and it must deserve marks in those regions, but this begins to hold a reduced relevance when the execution weighs that aspect down. The music by M83 is a bit disasterous – when it kicks in at the start of the film, it sounds like a Hans Zimmer soundalike, and towards the end of the movie, it becomes generic and derivative.
Oblivion doesn’t work in the end because it fails to regularly maintain interest, which is the capital requirement for any action or sci-fi movie. While the effects are immaculate, there’s no point if the movie they accompany isn’t very worthwhile. It doesn’t disappoint because of it being derivative (although there are many aspects of other movies within), it disappoints because it can’t work effectively with its own ideas.