Critics are calling Oblivion a mixed bag of sparse sci-fi plot threads strung together loosely and liberally. They’re right. I expected as much. After all, what ground could the post-apocalyptic thriller have left to cover? A future decades ahead. Earth laid to waste. Little to no survivors. Futuristic machinery patrolling a ravaged globe. Human technicians assigned to operate and repair the machines.
That’s the premise of Oblivion, which I suspect will mirror the upcoming thrillers After Earth and Elysium to some degree. From The Matrix to 2001 to Moon to Wall-E to I, Robot and on and on, I could compare Director Joseph Kosinski’s film to many a science-fiction pictures of past. That doesn’t hinder his film at all. I anticipated I would spot similarities. The film’s title even suggests where the story is headed. Yet Kosinski’s canvas opens with mystery and intrigue that leads to grand places and ideas, even if they’ve all been mined before.
Tom Cruise plays Jack
Reacher Harper, a pilot in the futuristic Earth, and one of the few survivors from an alien invasion led by Scavengers. The Scavengers took out half of the moon causing vast planetary natural disasters, and humanity responded with nuclear warfare. In the end, the aliens left, but Earth became a devastated habitat full of nuclear radiation. Humans moved to a space station while Earth regenerates its ability to sustain life for a large population.
Huddled clans of Scavengers still roam the grounds. Thus an army of government-produced drones monitor and control enemy activity. But sometimes the drones are shot down or malfunction. Harper, a drone repairman, keeps the drones up and running. Outside of his job, he lives above the clouds in a technically advanced floating home base with his girlfriend and assistant, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who monitors his movement on the ground level. She also communicates with the command base from which she receives orders including Harper’s daily itinerary.
During a routine maintenance scout, Harper finds a radio beacon activated by Scavengers. Questions abound. What or who are they calling? When they attempt to capture the leery pilot, Harper must investigate what little he knows about the Scavengers, what they might be planning, and how they might be tied to his dreams about a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) whom he does not know but seems to remember.
Further developments lead the narrative into even bigger territory, and most of what is offered has been recycled but not necessarily for the worse. Kosinski’s film is set apart from its film-brethren by its visual landscape. This is an amazing movie to look at. I’m shocked this film wasn’t converted and released in 3D. I admire a director and studio not following the herd for an extra buck. Lush nature is contrasted with the decay of nuked civilization, and giant hydrocopter versus computerized war drone battles couldn’t be composed any better.
The story eventually introduces a colony of humans led by the great Morgan Freeman, but unfortunately, much of the supporting human characters are underused. Cruise leads the show, and proves ever-capable, but if Oblivion falls under the weight of its grand ambition, it’s because the script misses the underlying human factor. The film focuses less on humanity’s impact, and more on the impact to the Harper character who must come to terms with the painful reality of his place and identity in a devastated world.
The plot doesn’t exactly move at a fast clip either. Oblvion, while featuring some stellar visuals and action, meanders more often than drives. Harper investigates location after location. He returns to home base and discusses his findings with Victoria again and again. The movie reaches the halfway-marker before really diving into some meaty ‘events.’ There’s a lot of eye candy throughout the film’s entirety, but this movie needed to pick a destination and operate via a concrete route. This is where the film borrows heavily from other films and that’s okay. But choose some key check points in the story along the way.
Kosinski’s Oblivion is still a film to admire in many respects. Despite insanely good visuals, I really felt like the film didn’t have the feel of a studio product. It felt like the objective of a filmmaker brought up under some great sci-fi movies who set out to pave his own from used parts. He doesn’t deliver slam-bang-pow-wow entertainment. He gives us a thoughtful action film supported by a magnificent production design and visuals that will last long after the story fades from memory.
Last 5 posts by Matt V
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