Science-Fiction movies are either fantastic or highly disappointing. Only a few manage to fall into the category of entertaining mediocrity. Unfortunately, Oblivion falls into the highly disappointing category. Warning: this review contains some spoilers.
Synopsis: Earth 2077 has been ravaged from an extraterrestrial attack war sixty years prior. The attack destroyed the Moon, triggering massive earthquakes and tsunamis, while humans used nuclear weapons for a costly victory. Tech 49 Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner and lover Victoria “Vika” Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are two of the few humans left on Earth. They are instructed by mission controller to protect the gigantic offshore fusion energy generators from attacks by the aliens. One day Jack discovers a crashed spacecraft that causes him question everything he was taught about the war, and may even change the fate of mankind.
Review: I had high hopes for this movie. The screenplay came close to being a decent science fiction adventure, but was bogged down by too many subplots. Oblivion could not decide if it wanted to be a space opera, star-crossed romance, action movie, dystopian political thriller, or a lone wolf adventure. Instead, the narrative is a mish-mash of all these scenarios, which results in a film where none of the characters are given an adequate arc. I think Tom Cruise is a decent actor; however, Oblivion did not emphasize his acting strengths.
The problem with basing a movie off an unpublished graphic novel is the original material was never polished. Unpublished works tend to need some serious editing before being released to the general public. Unfortunately, the screenplay emphasized the roughness of the original story. Half developed plot points and one dimensional characters weigh down the narrative. This unpolished screenplay is highly disappointing, especially since the main narrative could have been a fantastic sci-fi adventure. Instead, Oblivion is a large scale grey dystopian film with unrealized/undeveloped potential.
Oblivion is Joseph Kosinski’s second directorial pursuit and the story is based off his graphic novel. The film suffers from novice directing pitfalls and the lack of a strong artistic vision. Part of the problem is Kosinski chose to emphasize atmosphere over story. The result is a visually stunning film with poorly sketched characters. Principal photography took place in Iceland and the result is amazing. The dark and bleak landscape perfectly represents the atmosphere of a blasted and deserted Earth. Futuristic aircrafts whoosh through the sky and swoop over the obliterated landscape. Spooky mists hang in the sky and cast the world in shadows. Futuristic drone towers rise above the clouds, sleek and sterile. Overall, the created world is a masterpiece of visual science-fiction. Too bad the story is not as developed or intriguing.
Jack is depicted as a man existentially alone in a world devoid of life. This alludes to countless other stories of the lone cowboy wandering through an endless wasteland. Yet the story is directionless, lackluster, and pulled in too many directions. The screenplay should have either focused on Jack’s quest to recover his memories or on the Morgan Freeman led resistance fighters. Trying to do both dilutes the characters and makes the narrative incredibly shallow. Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are completely wasted in poorly sketched supporting roles. Cruise has little to work with as Jack. He runs around in a confused stupor for the majority of the film, there is little humor or wittiness in his lines. Instead, Cruise flashes a cocky smile and flies his drone/helicopter craft around all while looking confused and deep in thought. This movie emphasizes all the weak points in Cruise’s acting. And that is a shame, because he is a solid action star as long as the script is written to emphasize his strong points. Kurylenko and Riseborough do little more than stand around looking befuddled and speaking in riddles.
Oblivion is about forty minutes too long and drags in the middle. The narrative plods along at an appallingly slow rate. The film looks incredibly expensive and feels like it has been written and revised a hundred times. At least it is pretty to look at, which is good since all the budget went into cinematography. The film looks like a multi-million dollar camera commercial, everything is beautifully designed and captured. Oblivion is one of the most visually stunning science-fiction films created in recent years. As long as you are not expecting a phenomenal science-fiction adventure, Oblivion is a decent way to pass 124 minutes. Iceland is gorgeous.