I knew going into the theater that Oblivion starred Tom Cruise. It’s hard to miss. And there’s something about Cruise movies, something about the fact that he’s in every single scene and that whether he’s supposed to be part of a team (as in the Mission: Impossible series) or otherwise, it’s always narcissistically All About Tom. So there’s that.
Then there are problems with the storyline itself. I won’t spoil it but the trailers to the film suggest a scenario that might not be exactly what’s going on as the film unfolds. The security drones are bad-ass hardware, definitely reminiscent of Robocop‘s ED-409, they’re fast moving, intimidating as hell, and feature very cool on-board scanning and target identification systems. But if aliens can create these security drones, why can’t they create robo-drone repair drones too?
With those in mind, however, Oblivion offers up a fascinating near-future but post-apocalyptic Earth where The Statue of Liberty’s torch-bearing hand emerges from dirt (reminiscent of the great iconic scene from the original Planet of the Apes), then later Jack and Julia (Olga Kurylenko) zoom through what remains of the Brooklyn Bridge: only the top of the spans rising above the barren brown dirt. Another important setting is the observation area of the Empire State Building, except now it’s at ground level (see photo later in this review).
There’s no question, the visuals are incredibly well done and for that reason alone, I have to highly recommend Oblivion. I saw it on an IMAX screen and it’s breathtaking, just incredibly cool and kinetic, everything you want from a modern sf/x-heavy sci-fi adventure film.
And there’s more about the movie I liked too…
Just as notable was the sound. Recorded at Skywalker Sound, the sound is f’ing amazing. I mean, really, really well done. The kinesthetic experience of Oblivion in ultra-high-def 4K IMAX and DTS sound is truly astonishing.
Which is just as well because it compensates for a choppy, illogical storyline that has Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) manning a beautiful, ethereal drone repair facility literally above the clouds on an almost completely destroyed Earth. It’s many years after aliens have arrived on their massive Borg-like spaceship and destroyed our Moon which, as you would expect, has thrown the weather and tides into such disarray that the planet’s pretty shredded. Smart aliens, that’s much easier than killing us pesky humans.
There’s a massive orbiting station called The Tet that coordinates Jack and Victoria’s work repairing defense droids through inexplicably spotty video communication with Sally (Melissa Leo), a mother-like character with a sweet southern drawl. The drones are needed to protect hydrogen processing units that are converting what’s left of our oceans into energy that’s then beamed to the remaining human outpost on Saturn’s moon Titan. Jack’s needed to protect the drones from a small band of remaining aliens, Scav’s, who might not be whom they seem.
Meanwhile, there’s a rebel group of humans who are hiding on Earth and fighting the alien invasion force, led by the wise older military man Beech (Morgan Freeman), coupled with cliché skeptical second in command Sykes (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
The film really gets started when Jack tracks and then lands and investigates a downed NASA space capsule and finds within it the cryogenically suspended Julia (Kurylenko). He’s been dreaming about her, about the two of them on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, for as long as he can remember. But how can that be?
As with all good sci-fi thrillers, things aren’t what they seem and with ideas and visuals borrowed from such films as Moon, The Island, The Omega Man, Blade Runner, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, not to mention his previous film TRON: Legacy, Director Joseph Kosinski has given the film a great look and engaging pace.
Of special note to prop fans is Jack’s two-person vessel the BubbleShip, which has a fascinating insect-like quality to it. It’s a roller-coaster fan’s dream vehicle, as is demonstrated the first time Jack flips it upside down and plummets through the clouds to Earth far below Skytower. It’s just jaw-droppingly cool.
Much of the action in the first portion of the film takes place in the abandoned and destroyed New York Public Library. We’re never explicitly told that it’s the NYPL, however, it’s something attentive viewers have to piece together. Candidly, I like that in a movie, I like films where viewers have to piece things together, where there aren’t flashbacks to explain a story twist, but instead we’re required to figure out what’s going on.
Everyone in the film does a good job in their role, even Tom Cruise, who is enjoyable as the slowly awakening Jack Harper (yes, I know, I started by complaining about his narcissicm in cinema). My main criticism is with Morgan Freeman, who has been playing the same gravel-voiced über-serious rebel leader character for the last twenty years. It’s become so cliché that he’s frankly miscast and I would have preferred the tough, skeptical Coster-Waldau as the rebel leader. Sorry, Morgan.
I’m planning on going to see Oblivion again while it’s still in the theater, then buying it on Blu-Ray for my sci-fi collection. Go see it. Watch it in HD, or IMAX, and enjoy the visceral experience of a really well assembled big screen fx-heavy science fiction epic. Yeah the story’s a bit sketch and it’s definitely a Tom Cruise Movie, but trust me, it’s one heck of an amazing cinematic experience nonetheless.