You know, there is a really interesting science fiction story somewhere in this film. Unfortunately it’s buried underneath the weight of Tom Cruise.
Oblivion was written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, based on an unpublished graphic novel which he co-wrote with Arvid Nelson. Kosinski pitched the idea to Universal and they bought it which led to it being developed as a motion picture. According to Kosinski the film pays homage to the science fiction films of the 1970’s.
Well, he’s got that part right. Oblivion travels some very familiar territory. Visually the film borrows heavily from films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the original Solaris and some of the Planet of the Apes films. Visually there is more than a few nods to the future as envisioned by the 1970`s.
Oblivion takes place in 2077. The Earth has been devastated by war with an extraterrestrial invader, the Scavengers (referred to as scavs) Humanity is relocating Titan via the Tet, a large tetrahedron-shaped space station. Gigantic offshore fusion energy generators drain the oceans to produce power for the colonists on Titan.
Jack Harper (Cruise) is Tech / 49. He and his teammate and lover Victoria “Vika” Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are among the few humans left on Earth. Instructed by mission controller Sally and assisted by drones, they protect the generators from attack by any remaining Scavs. Despite having had a memory wipe, Jack experiences visions of being on the observation deck of the Empire State Building with an unknown woman before the war.
All this is backstory and is given to us via Tom Cruise`s voice over narration, which feels kind of forced and awkward. Jack and Vika live in an ultra-modern sky apartment that looks like it was designed by a tech firm rather than an actual production designer. Cruise wears a funky leather suit and flies a sleek looking airplane. Vika stays behind wearing a dress and shiny pumps operating a super-slick monitoring station.
Cruise flies down to the surface of the ruined wasteland that was the earth. Only the tops of the very tallest buildings can be seen poking above the sand. Despite that Cruise finds the ruined remains of an old football stadium and single handedly re-enacts the last Superbowl ever played before the war (how he can remember that with his memory having been wiped is never fully explained). He also has a place where he hangs out, an idyllic cabin that he has built for himself in a little wooden area hidden in a valley and conveniently located in a radio blind spot so that Vika can`t find him. Here he has his aviator sunglasses from Top Gun and his New York Yankees cap and he unwinds and lies in the grass and enjoys the sunshine of old Earth.
He also rides a motorcycle, which should come as no surprise. I think Tom Cruise’s standard contract comes with a “must ride a motorcycle in the movie” clause. Sure, it’s a super sleek futuristic motorcycle, but it still makes the requisite “vroom vroom!” noise.
So Tom’s idyllic existence is interrupted by the arrival of a pre-invasion earth ship which crash lands nearby. When Tom goes to investigate he finds several cryo-pods containing humans in suspended animation. What are the odds that one of them is the unknown woman from his dreams of the Empire State Building.?
A drone destroys all the pods except for the one containing Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko). Tom saves her from being destroyed, of course, because she is his dream girl. But her presence causes Tom to start questioning everything he’s been told.
Well, from there the film plods along in a rather predictable way. If you’ve seen a lot of science fiction films from the 1970’s (and, believe me, I have) then the plot’s twists and turns will not come as any surprise.
In fact, little about this film surprised me, right down to the dialogue which I found myself quoting before the actors had even spoken the lines.
Like I said, there is a good story underneath all the flashy designs and Cruise’s overbearing performance. Not even Morgan Freeman is able to elevate it all above mediocre, though. The way that the filmmakers get to the meat of the story feels awkward, like they had to incorporate so many disparate elements to meet the requirements of the film’s star that by the time you get there you wonder why it took so long.
The other big problem is casting. Cruise is the star and he needs a heavyweight antagonist. That’s Freeman. But is he an antagonist? Or is he really on Cruise’s side? See, you need a talented heavyweight actor to pull that subtlety off, right? Then there’s Nicolaj Coster-Waldau who is cast as the standard “angry” antagonist, the kind who wonders aloud why-are-we-keeping-him-alive-why-don’t-we-just-kill-him?
The problem with this film lies with its female leads. They feel rather miscast. The female characters have very little to do to begin with, but it seems like the director has purposely cast smaller, frailer, very non-kick-ass actresses into the roles. The one character who could have been a real threat to Cruise if she had been beefed up a little, is portrayed as simpering and unsure and more of an annoyance than an obstruction.
You know, if you’ve got a few hours to kill (and you’ll need more than two. This is a needlessly long movie) and you don’t have to pay for it, then you could watch this film. But if you have to go to any sort of trouble… don’t bother.
This film isn’t worth the effort.