A Good Day to Die Hard, anyone?). Fortunately that isn’t the case at all.
In 2077 a war with alien Scavengers (Scavs for short) leaves the Earth devoid of life. Humanity has colonized Titan, and technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his assistant/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have been left behind to make sure the planet’s remaining resources are gathered and transported to their new home. When Jack finds a crashed spacecraft containing a woman from his past (Olga Kurylenko) his world begins to unravel as he learns that things are not at all as they seem.
Oblivion is an odd film. It has some story structure problems, certain points of exposition are repeated multiple times and there are some pacing issues. All these gaffs were present in TRON: Legacy as well, but I was able to overcome them because I enjoyed the world, plot and characters more than the faults. The same applies here. Despite some minor hitches I found Oblivion to be a fantastically engaging, interesting and emotionally charged film experience.
After completely wowing me with TRON: Legacy, director Joseph Zosinski’s sophomore effort goes for something a little more low key and personal. The script was co-written by him, Karl Gajdusek and
Michael Arndt based off a graphic novel by Kosinski, so it’s safe to say he knows this story back to front. Sure his penchant for flashy visuals and set designs are at work in full force once again, but he really seems more interested in making sure the love story at the heart of the film works instead of filling every frame with pulse pounding action. He still needs to work on directing his actors a little better, but he knows how to design fantastic environments and present them in beautiful ways. His style has improved and he opted for subtle over bombastic in every way possible, even during the action scenes. I wanted to stay within the world he created past the end credits.
Tom Cruise turns in some great work here as focal character Jack Harper. He sells the grandeur of the ruins of the old world, his boring and thankless job and his ultimate confusion and acceptance of the situations he finds himself in as the plot progresses into territories I never saw coming. He does his usual Cruiseisms, but it’s expected and it works for the part. Andrea Riseborough plays her part of Victoria with a strange detachment and aloofness that seems bizarre and out of place at first, but once the ball gets rolling it makes a whole lot of sense. Olga Kurylenko is a beautiful woman and a decent actress, but Kosinski’s lack of experience shows through her performance. She does her best, but she seems overly wooden and unengaging for most of the film, only coming to life during the last 20 minutes or so. It’s not a huge issue, but it bugged me since a lot of the story rests in her hands. Morgan Freeman doesn’t have a big part, but what little time he gets on screen he rocks like no other. He gives weight to some hapless exposition and made me believe every bit of info he gives to Harper, no matter how ridiculous.
All the sets, costumes and ship/weapon designs have a bit of a TRON: Legacy look to them, only with 100% less luminescence. At first the sky high apartment the main players reside in looks a little too extravagant for the state the planet is in, but it makes sense later on. Everything has a purpose and a function that’s explained in a way that won’t make your eyes cross (I’m looking at you Ultraviolet). Sure things have an overly clean and sanitized look, like the Enterprise bridge in the new Star Trek films, but it works. I especially liked Harper’s dome ship and the cool looking motorcycle that popped out of it. The pool outside the apartment was rad too. The cinematography by Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi, TRON: Legacy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is absolutely beautiful and goes to show that there’s a reason he won an Academy Award (although the film he won it for didn’t deserve it from what I’m told).
The musical score by M83, composed by Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese (from Linkin Park, and composed the music for the unjustly cancelled series TRON: Uprising), is utterly fantastic. Like Daft Punk’s techno fused score from TRON: Legacy, M83’s electronic vs. orchestral work is phenomenal. I found myself humming the main theme after the movie ended. The song used over the end credits, “Oblivion (feat. Susanne Sundfør)”, uses that main theme in a wonderful way. It fits the film like a glove and enhances it like any classic score should. I’m getting the soundtrack the next chance I get.
Like I said earlier, the trailers didn’t give away the main gist of the story. There are plenty of surprises in store for the audience that hopefully will knock you on your ass like it did me. I will not go into spoiler territory, but even though these twists and turns were welcome and worked within the plot, they are lifted directly from other science fiction movies. One in particular is blatantly plagiarized, but I will not name it due to it ruining a great reveal. It did bug me at first once I started noticing glaring similarities to other flicks, but find me a movie that doesn’t do that as well. As long as it’s pulled off in a way that works it’s not that big of a deal to me, as is the case here.
Another thing that irked me was something I talked about in my review of Django Unchained… if you’re going to cast someone like Zöe Bell in your movie you had better have something awesome for her to do. I don’t even recall her having any lines. This is a cardinal sin in my cinematic rulebook. The same goes for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who Game of Thrones fans will recognize as Jaime Lannister. He doesn’t do anything outside of shooting a gun and looking grizzled. Such a waste of talent.
As the case with other recent films like Looper and Prometheus, Oblivion is pure science fiction and not sci-fi. It’s not about explosions and action, but about people and ideas that make you think and feel. The main theme of “love will set you free” is handled extremely well and is quite poignant at certain points in the story. While it does have some popcorn sci-fi elements scattered throughout the script, it’s treated in a serious manner that doesn’t go into cheesy territory. Some glitches aside I adored the everloving shit out of Oblivion. I went in not expecting to like it thinking that it was ruined by the previews, and walked out having seen a new favorite film that I feel will be pretty divisive amongst genre fans. You’re either going to buy into it or check out. I bought into it wholesale and didn’t want it to end.
Oblivion is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. Go see it immediately, in IMAX if possible. You owe it to yourself to see a great science fiction movie before the glut of corny summer sci-fi begins filling multiplexes nationwide.
4.5 out of 5