Oblivion brings Tom Cruise back to the forefront of science fiction front in an original film from Joesph Kosinski. Starring Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko and Melissa Leo, the film follows a man who has to fix droids that defend the Earth in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Watch the trailer after the jump and then read my review.
I’ll start with the things I liked about the film, because that won’t take long. The first hour is spent developing a story of a post-apocalyptic couple (Cruise and Andrea Riseborough) that is very unique and interesting. There are some great action scenes here and there is a mystery that is very compelling.
The setup is pretty simple too. After a nuclear war with aliens, humans had to leave Earth and live first on a space station called the Tet before moving to the Saturn moon Titan. Cruise’s Jack Harper and Riseborough’s Victoria are a team that have to fix the droids that patrol Earth; droids who are designed to kill the last of the aliens.
The Earth of 2077 looks great too. Shots of the CN Tower laying down and of the Pentagon half-destroyed are part of the film’s opening and looked real. The Empire State Building and Giants Stadium also turned out really well as destroyed sets.
The interiors are radically different. The house Harper and Victoria share is extremely futuristic; clean, empty and full of screens with information. Freeman’s home is very different, dirty and full of unused computers and wires. Both sets looked great and helped tell the story.
The vehicles were more of a mixed bag. The helicopter he uses is very cool. But his motorcycle is stupid. While the helicopter is a leap in vehicle technology with hummingbird like steering and break neck speeds, the motorcycle looks like something from 2013. It had two main purposes in the movie and fulfills them, even if they are cheesy movie moments. The first one is when he first uses it, a scene that includes Tom Cruise trying to pull small stunts as he races across what’s left of New York. The second comes later in the film, when the bike runs out of fuel and has to be dropped in the middle of nowhere. Neither affected the plot in any way, and while the stunts were funny, there really was no need for him to run out of fuel without explaining what the fuel is. Little plot holes like that drive me crazy and I don’t like leaving movies with more questions than when I walked in.
After the first hour, Kurylenko and Freeman arrive on the scene and things quickly go down hill. Not because of these two talented actors, but because the story becomes so dense with twists and confessions that it spins into the ground.
My biggest complaint is how underused Kurylenko and Freeman are. Freeman gets four scenes and two of them are spent revealing important plot points. Kurylenko might have even less dialogue than Freeman and spends most of the movie as an injured damsel in distress and not the ass-kicking female hero she usually is.
Another complaint I have is some of the jumps made. Early in the film, Cruise gets trapped in a hole. After a gun battle, we see him climb out of the hole, without any explanation for how he scaled the 100 foot space. And right after that, he realizes his bike was stolen, but he somehow gets his helicopter back instantly even though it is implied that he drove miles away from it. There was not enough time for him to walk back to his helicopter between scenes.
On the contrary, there are some scenes that have small cuts that are unnecessary and long. We see Cruise in the shower twice, just because, and we see him do up his seat belt a couple of times too. Closeups on a seat belt or shirtless Tom Cruise are not really needed in a sci-fi movie and they add time that could have been used to explain some of the things mentioned above.
On the acting front, Freeman and Leo give by far the best performances. In fact, I didn’t even realize Leo was in the movie until the credits rolled. She plays Sally, who communicates with Victoria during Harper’s missions. Freeman plays a character different that is kinda crazy in a non-crazy way, where by the end he is obviously the father figure/ wise-old man archetype. His performance is proof that no matter how small a role, Freeman is an amazing actor.
For an unknown actress, Andrea Riseborough gets a lot of screen time with Cruise as his lover and work partner. She does an alright job and delivers her lines the way they should be. But her character is poorly developed and has many flaws. When those come to a head, Riseborough can’t stop crying, huge tears that can be seen even from a zoomed out shot. This movie may get her more American roles but it shouldn’t go down as her best performance in her career.
Kurylenko is a Bond girl and an action star, which is why she should be cast in a movie like Oblivion. But her character, Julia, spends most of the movie sleeping or injured. Kurylenko looks good sleeping, but should be given more to do. Even her scene where she fires a gun still requires her being saved by a minor character. Through no fault of her own, I was disappointed with her performance because there was nothing there. Yet her character couldn’t be written out either because she gives Harper some important information about his character that no one else could. A character with that kind of importance to the plot should also be involved in the action scenes.
And the man himself, Cruise, does everything he is expected to do but not much more. His dialogue is frequently forced, he flexes his muscles a lot and remains surprisingly clean for someone battling on a post-apocalyptic Earth. Cruise can still do action movies and I know he did some of his stunts here which is cool. But he delivers dialogue in a way I don’t like and don’t think I could ever get used to, even when it is in every scene of a movie like this one. Something about his speech draws me out of the film and reminds me it is a movie, unless there is a cool action scene playing out too.
Overall, Oblivion is a good-looking film that gets caught up in its own story. I hope Kosinski continues to write and direct science fiction movies because he has the potential for great things. Little ideas like an Elvis bobble head named Bob and bigger ideas like how our weapons can defend our plant and destroy it prove that Kosinski is a creative guy who should be making movies. So while Oblivion had its flaws, I still look forward to seeing what this director does next.