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Oblivion – Spoiler Free Movie Review

Oblivion - Tom Cruise (poster)Oblivion, despite a marketing push to the contrary, is unequivocally not a “Tom Cruise” movie. Sure, the trailer was debuted months ahead of time during a high profile Super Bowl ad. And sure, Tom Cruise stars. But this is not the action-packed sci-fi romp Universal’s marketing department would have you believe. Oblivion is a stark, almost minimalist, rendering of director Joseph Kosinski’s vision of a post-Apocalyptic near-future Earth. Oblivion is a decent story—just not a great movie.

Set approximately 63 years in the future, the Earth of Oblivion is a nuclear wasteland. As the opening voice-over tells us, over half the planet has been destroyed by nuclear weapons, used in repelling “Scavs,” the alien species who invaded our planet. The people of Earth won the war…but lost their planet. Enter Titan and the Tet. Titan, a moon of Saturn, has been chosen as the new home of Earth’s remaining population. While the vast majority of humanity has already relocated, a relatively small portion of the population remains on the Tet, an orbiting monolith standing watch over the Earth as energy is extracted from the remnants of the oceans.

Jack Harper and his communications officer, Victoria (played by Andrea Risebrough) are the last humans planetside, servicing the small army of robotic drones that are tasked with securing the massive machines converting the oceans to energy. Jack and Vika are in a battle against both the unforgiving environment as well as the remaining Scavs, who are determined to bring down as many drones as possible. Living high above the surface in an almost hermetically sealed observation tower, Jack and Vika are the sole remaining humans on the once thriving planet…or so they think.

A rocket crash followed by the discovery of several humans in stasis—including the mysterious Julia (played by a breathless Olga Kurylenko)—forces Jack to question his mission. Eventually, he is captured by Scavs, shifting the film’s plot into overdrive and turning the central concept of the movie on its head. A group of human survivors, led by Morgan Freeman and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, eventually capture Jack and Julia, kicking off the third act of the film and its subsequent rush toward conclusion.

Oblivion - Stadium (poster)The film is beautifully shot, but one can’t help but get the feeling that we’ve seen this all before. The sterile, snow-capped peaks combined with the hulking remnants of familiar landmarks such as the Empire State building and an American football stadium jutting from vast deserts evoke a feeling of desolation made worse by familiarity, yet one can’t help but wonder when the horse-riding apes will make their appearance. And the lush greenery of Jack’s hidden sanctuary, while serving as a sharp contrast to the desolation so prevalent throughout the film, doesn’t carry any emotional weight (even after some heavy-handed exposition).

Clearly an homage to sci-fi films of the past 40 years, Kosinski has populated Oblivion with bits and pieces of movies as diverse as 2001 and Star Wars. But the whole, sadly, does not equal something greater than the sum of its parts.

The acting is workmanlike. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, as ever. Risebrough and Kurylenko play their parts with an over-the-top conviction that seems oddly out of place. And Freeman and Coster-Waldau, both great actors, deliver performances that are rote but for a few small moments of true character acting. The performances would be fine if the central plot of the movie was more engaging, but Oblivion is fairly predictable. Even the major twists are telegraphed.

Oblivion - Waterfall (poster)Kosinski’s reach may have exceeded his grasp. Oblivion is ambitious in theme, certainly. The central story is interesting, and it is definitely “hard science fiction,” which is always fun to see on the big screen. But there is a lack of cohesiveness to the entire enterprise. Fleshing out either the characters or the plot may have helped, but in my opinion Oblivion would have made an excellent video game instead of movie. I struggled to connect with the characters, and there seemed to be holes in the plot that were too large to ignore. If I was an active participant in Jack’s adventure, I think I would have felt different.

Oblivion was not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It just wasn’t particularly good. I didn’t walk out of the theater mulling it over, and had a difficult time reviewing it because it didn’t engender any type of emotional response. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. I saw it, and I’ll probably never see it again. If you’re a fan of science fiction, spending just under two hours watching Oblivion whenever it is released on Blu-Ray or Netflix wouldn’t be a mistake, but it isn’t essential watching and certainly doesn’t add much to the discussion of sci-fi in film.


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