Monday Movie Review: Oblivion

Written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, the helmer of Tron: Legacy, Oblivion is intended to be a throwback to science fiction films of the 1970s – the Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Stepford Wives of cinematic history. And the new film certainly has that vibe about it. Fans of bustling, urban, high octane genre fare like Total Recall 2012 may be bored by the more contemplative, though not exactly deep, Oblivion. However, if you like continual twists and turns (even if they’re not entirely unexpected) the film delivers. It’s far from perfect, and you certainly won’t be thinking about it more than a day after leaving the cinema, but with moderated expectations, it’s an engaging genre entry.

Oblivion is set in the tail end of the 21st Century, after the Earth has been devastated by a war with alien invaders known as Scavengers. While the vast majority of humanity has fled to Titan, a handful of technicians like Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his team leader/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) remain behind to monitor their designated sectors of the planet and repair patrol droids. This security is necessary as humanity harvests Earth’s water supply before abandoning the world forever. Jack already has ambivalent feelings about leaving his home; his dilemma is worsened though when a long-lost space shuttle crash lands and its contents force him to question everything he’s been told.

For a film that’s not a video game adaptation – it’s based on an unpublished graphic novel for the record – Oblivion has a very strong video game vibe. At times the actions of the characters feel like player missions. More prominent for gamers though is the fact that the drones look like variations on Portal’s sentry turrets (I kept expecting them to say “I see you”), and well, a certain character could easily have spoken with the voice of GlaDOS.

As for casting and character, Oblivion is a mixed bag. Over the past decade or so, leading man Cruise seems to have unashamedly embraced his Marty Stu-ness – his characters are just so damn admired and perfect at everything they do – and this film doesn’t buck the trend. Personally, I like Cruise (though he’s starting to look very weathered now) and I enjoy his films, but there’s the sense Oblivion could have benefitted from a lead with less “movie star” baggage, which continually tugs you out of the film.

You still do root for Jack Harper though. He’s not irritating; unlike Olga Kurylenko’s Russian astronaut, who is probably one of the most insipid and incapable female characters to appear in this type of film in recent years. Riseborough’s “robotic,” rules-enthusiastic Victoria is at least interesting, and a little bit sad. For the record, Morgan Freeman and Game of ThronesNikolaj Coster-Waldau  also appear in Oblivion, but despite the miniscule scale of the film's cast, their characters remain undeveloped.

Oblivion takes its time peeling back its layers of mystery. As already said though, this isn’t a problem. Even if the revelations aren’t of the Matrix mind-fuck variety, it’s still a pleasant chance to watch a sci-fi film that isn’t just a series of breathless back-to-back chase sequences. And with its striking vast locations and slick special effects, you’re never short on eye candy to keep you engaged during Oblivion's quieter moments.

I can understand Oblivion not being to everyone’s tastes – it could really have done without its cheesy little epilogue – but personally I really appreciated its throwback style. It’s unchallenging blockbuster entertainment that consistently delivers without gleefully screaming "stupid" for once.

3.5 stars out of 5


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