Oblivion thinks it is much smarter than it really is. But the more you think about it after the credits start rolling, the stupider it gets. But I can compliment the film on two things: making an effort to channel Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and being just another dumb Tom Cruise thriller at the same time. That is not an easy feat to pull off. Oblivion’s strengths and weakness lie in the fact that it attempted do so.
The movie begins with an unnecessary narration by Jack (Tom Cruise), one of the few people left on Earth after an alien invasion destroyed most of the planet. In the narration we are informed that most humans have left for Titan, Saturn’s moon. Jack and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are there to give maintenance to drones in charge of cleaning up the Earth and killing off any remaining aliens. When they don’t fix drones they spend the time by enjoying candlelit dinners and skinny-dipping in a glass-bottomed pool that hangs 1,000 feet in the air. They live a pretty nifty life, while their boss, Sally (Melissa Leo) supervises them from a pyramid-shaped control center orbiting the Earth; she is awfully cheerful. And you know that, in a movie, when the boss can’t help but smile 24/7 something has to be off.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that Jack and Victoria had a routine memory wipe five years prior. The only think Jack can remember is a cheesy backlit dream of a beautiful woman when met in pre-invasion New York. One otherwise average day, a pre-war shuttle crash-lands on Earth. The only survivor is Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a Russian astronaut that looks exactly like the girl in Jack’s dream. And then we are off into a space-chase adventure; to figure out whom is this girl, and what does Morgan Freeman’s character know that nobody else does.
There are a lot of question, and not all of them are answered. But for the most part the ride is beautiful to look at. The opening is immersive, gradual, and even slow. But it is perfect to introduce us to the world of the film. We see stunning digital landscapes of buried cities, dried up rivers, and ocean-sized desserts. The film’s biggest problem is that this world is much more interesting than any of its characters, which are all – for the most part – flat cardboard cut outs.
Take for example the cheesy love story in Jack’s dream. Julia is an idealized woman that he can’t remember, but she claims to be his wife. Victoria is the sexy redhead he goes skinny-dipping in the sky with. Guess which one is the evil one. Meanwhile, down below on Earth’s broken surface, everybody but the audience has to learn that Morgan Freeman is always right.
Director Joseph Kosinski’s previous movie, TRON: Legacy, was also a visual smorgasm with very one-dimensional protagonists. But it didn’t lie to itself about that; TRON: Legacy’s target audience was much younger than Oblivion’s and they ended up with what they paid for going in. In Oblivion, those who paid for a brainy Sci Fi that could work as some political allegory will get Tom Cruise, while those who paid for Tom Cruise will get a slow brainy world building Sci Fi that still doesn’t work as a political allegory.
The best way to enjoy this film is to relax and not think about it too much, yet at the same time not to expect Mission Impossible, or any other noisy movie of the kind. If you do, like I did, this can be a very enjoyable film. At the very least it is a very beautiful film.
Having said all this, I do have two random musings:
1) This is not the first movie where an unexplained affection for Olga Kurylenko drives the main character. This doesn’t work for me. Not because Kurylenko is a bad actress, but because the protagonist should have a reason to fall for her, other than “just ‘cause she is the love interest”.
2) The film could have used some more female ass kicking. Tom Cruise’s character is all man; he’s a sharpshooter, a mechanic, a sports fan, and gets to drive a cool bike. Meanwhile the women just run and follow instructions. When Kurylenko finally picks up a gun, the Kingslayer from Game of Thrones kills off the badie that was threatening her, so she doesn’t get to use it.
3) Had the movie ended 30 seconds before it did, it would have been wonderful. The extra 30 seconds and an unnecessary level of cheesiness and just ruin the whole thing for everybody.