Finally! Oblivion kicks off what is sure to be a great year for science fiction with a stylish bang – and the highly anticipated Pacific Rim and Elysium are still to come! It’s always great to see an original piece of sci-fi hit the big screen, and Oblivion is definitely no exception. Tom Cruise is in fine form and as charismatic as ever here as Jack Harper (how many characters must Cruise play named Jack?!). Jack is a techie, a member of a two-man team left on Earth as a mop-up crew after an alien invasion cracked our moon open, upheaved continents and irradiated much of the planet. With most of humanity now living off-world, Jack and his partner (Andrea Riseborough) are basically human versions of Wall-E, left to repair drones which protect important hydro facilities from scavenging alien baddies.
It’s a good foundation for a story, albeit the setup is sloppily conveyed via an opening monologue. Writer-director Joseph Kosinski still hasn’t completely overcome his penchant for bland expository sequences such as those that marred his previous film, Tron: Legacy. Still, Oblivion is the kind of movie where it’s painfully obvious early on that there’ll be a twist of some kind. I should have mentioned that Jack’s memory has been wiped to prevent him from divulging secrets to the aliens should he be captured. It’s a plot point that reeks of insincerity; it’s clear that there will be a couple of twists, turns and reveals along the way. These at least are all handled in a compelling manner. They are surprising and feel justified when the curtain drops, which ultimately made me feel more inclined to forgive the storytelling sins that Kosinski does commit. Only the final ending scene left me scratching my head, despite everything up to that point gelling together.
As mentioned, Cruise is fine in the lead role, and the supporting cast do an amiable job too: there’s Olga Kurylenko from Quantum of Solace, Prince Charming from Game of Thrones (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and even Morgan Freeman – although Freeman’s talents are sadly underused. Complementing the actors is an arsenal of impressive effects, from the drones to Jack’s floating pad in the sky. As in Tron: Legacy, while you can sense the artifice in Kosinski’s visuals they nonetheless create a cohesive sci-fi world. That said, a little more variety would have been nice – it gets repetitious when the same bulbous drone design is used throughout the entire film. Perhaps most of the budget was blown on a jaw-dropping aerial chase partway through? Regardless, the score by Joseph Trapanese and M83’s Anthony Gonzalez is particularly noteworthy, underpinning the visuals with a Hans Zimmer-ish sound that recalled the work done by Daft Punk in Tron: Legacy.
I’m compelled to mention my surprise that Oblivion is not releasing in 3D. Kosinski did wonders with Tron: Legacy in that medium so I think it’s a real missed opportunity that Oblivion hasn’t been given the same treatment. There are many scenes here that are depicted from a birds-eye view that would have really benefited from the added depth afforded by 3D. Similarly, many other moments and sequences felt as if they’d been specifically designed with 3D in mind. In any case, the cinematography itself is clean, crisp and lends the movie a serene, ethereal quality from time to time. These moments, lingering on images and landscapes and backed by the pulsing score, are among Oblivion‘s best.
Oblivion is original science fiction with surprising twists, breathtaking visuals and a handful of great action scenes.