If there’s a danger to the sci-fi genre it’s that sometimes it can be too smart for its own good, or at least in the case of Oblivion, it thinks it is. Think of it as a mish mash of sci-fi epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, with helpings of Blade Runner, the Matrix and even WALL-E. Oblivion took the most drab parts and made a movie out of them, ignoring what made many of those films enjoyable to watch. Set is 2077, the movie takes place place on a nearly uninhabitable Earth. Apparently there was a war with an alien race called the Scavengers, who blew up the moon that resulted in massive earthquakes and tsunami’s that literally wiped out most of the Earth’s surface. Couple that with the humans desire to end the war with the use of nuclear weapons and you have a surface that few, if any, could survive on. Well, unless you’re the movie’s protagonist, Jack Harper, played by Tom Cruise and his companion Victoria Olsen, played by Andrea Riseborough.
The film starts with two weeks left on Jack and Victoria’s tour on Earth, who they believe are the last two people left on Earth. His job is to fly around the the designated safe zone repairing drones which protect massive machines built to suck up all the water from the oceans to take to Saturn’s moon Titan, where all the humans have settled. The drones have been deployed to protect the collectors from the remaining Scavengers, which are the remnants of the alien species who remain on Earth. All of this is conveniently explained in Cruise’s opening narration. Victoria remains at the home above the clouds to act as a liaison with Sally, played by Melissa Leo, the friendly boss who checks in every few hours to make sure everything is running smoothly.
To be honest, the first 30-45 minutes of the movie is pretty much just Jack repairing drones, flying around and having flashbacks of a woman, played by Olga Kurylenko, he may or may not have been involved with roughly 60 years prior at the Empire State Building in New York City. Oh, did I mention that apparently anyone that is stationed on Earth had their mind wiped before hand. Why? Well that’s never explained, but later you come to find out the real reason, a reason that shall remain a mystery within this review.
The story picks up a bit when one night a nuclear weapon is set off, grabbing the attention of Jack and Victoria. Off to investigate, Jack witnesses an old space vessel crash landing at co-ordinates within an area designated outside the safe zone. Never one to shy away from something to break his mundane routine Jack investigates and he finds the ship in ruins, but the statis pods have miraculously survived unharmed. After a brief encounter with the drones, who proceed to destroy all but one of the statis pods, Jack is able to rescue one pod only to find out that its inhabitant is the mystery woman from his dreams.
What happens next leads Jack, and the mystery woman, into adventures into the unknown. Trying to explain it all would be giving most of it away. But I can say this without ruining anything, there are more people on Earth than they previously thought and Jack and Victoria may not be exactly what they seem to be. Yet it would also be fair to say that if you’ve seen a sci-fi move before you will easily figure things out. Who’s in control, why they maintain control and more. Oblivion borrows heavily from other sci-fi movies, to the point where scenes are near identical to those found in other movies. Still, it looks good. Kosinski has an undeniable visual talent, made all the more impressive by the fact that Oblivion is only his second film. Filming in Iceland made it easy to depict the eerie, green treeless hillsides of an abandoned Earth. Adding some cgi gave some much needed reference to where the movie was taking place, hint: NYC and surrounding areas. The design of the Jacks ship, the drones, and the house above the clouds are clean and gorgeous, they look like they belong in a futuristic movie and contrast well with the scenes on the desolate Earth. Where the film falters is in its script. Joining Kosinski there were three other screen writers attributed to this movie, and one of them is Star Wars Episode VII writer Michael Arndt. The humor, what little there was, seemed forced and felt uncomfortable. There’s a lot of exposition and not enough showing of what’s occurring, which is surprising considering it’s near two hour run time. Perhaps the biggest issue is how the movie likes to fill the audience in on what’s going on instead of letting the mystery linger and allowing the audience to put it together. The ending came together very quickly as well, and compared to the rest of the movie it felt rushed.
That being said, Oblivion isn’t the worst movie you’ll ever see. To be fair it’s probably not all that bad, especially if you’re someone that does not follow the sci-fi genre closely. The action sequences are exciting and the few times the story allows us to think for ourselves it’s intriguing. The cast worked well with each other and the visuals looked amazing. Ultimately Oblivion will do well because of the cast, and sometimes people just want to turn off their brains and be entertained.