Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko
Plot: A drone mechanic is tasked with a clean-up mission after a devastating war which leaves the Earth virtually uninhabitable. However, a strange turn of events forces him to question the real reason why he is there and his very existence.
Trailers for science-fiction films are traditionally unlike any other genre. The perceived spectacle is far more important at this point, whereas the finer details of the plot are secondary. However, more recently there has been a distinct lack of originality where such movies are concerned. Sure, the otherworldly landscapes and gadgets are essential, but in a time where cinematic CGI has reached a level of excellence never seen before, ironically the onus is on the need for good old-fashioned storytelling to back it all up. With the summer blockbuster season almost upon us once again, are we seeing the start of a new trend in convincing plots and characters?
In 2077, Jack Harper (Cruise) works mostly alone as a drone repairman on Earth, which was nearly destroyed by an alien invasion which resulted in the annihilation of the moon. From a base suspended above the remains of New York City called ‘Tower 49′, Jack and his romantic partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) work together to ensure that Earth’s resources are sent to a space station (Tet), which was humanity’s escape vessel. Through their mission controller Sally (Melissa Leo), Jack is guided to certain locations where drones need to be repaired. However, he has to deal with the attentions of ‘Scavs’, aliens who were left behind after the war. Jack and Victoria are promised that their mission will eventually end in a few weeks’ time and they can join the other survivors on Titan.
Jack keeps having recurring dreams about meeting a mysterious woman on the observatory level of the Empire State Building before the war, even though he and Victoria had their memories wiped five years earlier for the sake of security. Whilst out on patrol one day, Jack rescues Julia (Kurylenko) from a downed spacecraft, whom he recognises from his dreams, from Scavs who are revealed to actually be humans living underground. Their leader Malcolm Beech (Freeman) claims that the invasion was a lie and urges Jack to reprogram a drone and use it to attack the Tet. Jack refuses, but when Malcolm lets them both go, he tells him to investigate the ‘high radiation zone’ that Jack is not allowed to enter. Upon returning to the base, Jack learns that all is not what it seems and he will have to fight to survive.
The only people who will truly enjoy Oblivion are those who have never seen a single science-fiction film in their entire lives before. The first thing that strikes you about the decidedly bleak world into which we are plunged, is the familiarity of it all. Borrowing, er, stealing ideas directly from the Alien films, Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Total Recall, Blade Runner, Wall-E, Mad Max and a finale which unashamedly lends itself heavily to Independence Day (though thankfully without a token cringeworthy speech from an American President), this is an Earth created by screenwriters who have no new ideas whatsoever and can only do but tick all the sci-fi boxes from the unwritten book of clichés. This is all a real shame because there is a great idea in here which could have been developed into a really engaging experience, combining themes of existence and reality in a dystopian setting to give us a highly thought-provoking film. The CGI is at times impressive (as all featured on the trailer), but these moments are few and far between – the characters themselves still need to deserve our empathy for their plight, but this is sadly not forthcoming.
Tom Cruise is undoubtedly a talented actor, but now and again he lapses into his comfort zone, that of not really bothering to act at all. If you swoon at the mere sight of little Tommy, then this will not bother you in the slightest, but his penchant for ‘being Tom Cruise’ (also see Jack Reacher) is once again evident here. He has a way of conjuring his narcissistic alter ego he most famously used in Top Gun and brings out arguably his most famous incarnation, fighter pilot Maverick, at hilariously random points in his career. Cruise isn’t so much as miscast; he is up to the task of playing Jack, but just fails to convince us that he isn’t on a film set running around in front of a green screen. Andrea Riseborough is suitably gorgeous and mysterious as Jack’s colleague Victoria, but the script doesn’t really allow much development in the way of finding out about her past and a methodical revealing of the reasons behind her and Jack’s mission. Instead we’re left with a stiff and starchy leading lady, with a personality as sterile as the decor of the base she operates from. Olga Kurylenko, whose career is just starting to come to fruition a few years after starring in Quantum of Solace, has a similar role to her Camille in the aforementioned James Bond instalment – she does just what is required.
Oblivion should be a fascinating watch, but the first hour is surprisingly slow, although there are a few scenes in the first half that punctuate the serenity and quicken the pulse slightly. Apart from a decent chase sequence and some nice views of a ruptured moon, there’s not a great deal to recommend here. This is yet another nail in the coffin of films that concentrate on ground-breaking plot development instead of diverting attention to what’s happening in the CGI sky above.