Oblivion Review


Another year, another dystopian science fiction movie. Tron Legacy’s director Joseph Kosinski is back with his sophomoric effort, Oblivion, a movie that stars Tom Cruise on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Cruise continues his reputation as one of the huge Hollywood actors in this film, playing Jack Harper, one of the last few humans on Earth. His job is to repair drones that patrol the almost-destroyed planet, having followed an alien invasion 60 years earlier. He’s not alone however, having been teamed with his colleague Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) who is his eyes and ears while he’s on drone repair.

Oblivion (Tom Cruise) (2)Oblivion is a pretty standard-fare set-up: The Earth as we know it sacrificed itself to defeat its alien invaders, only for humanity to have to leave while the aliens stayed, all while Cruise’s character works to help destroy the rest of the alien inhabitants and gather any natural resources left for the human colony on Titan, Saturn’s moon. What one must consider with such a well-worn post-apocalyptic science-fiction concept is whether we should be worried if we’ve already seen this movie before.

And fear not… you have seen this movie before.

Last man on the planet, fighting a battle with those not of this Earth? Yup. 

Last man on the planet, cleaning up the planet while everyone else left? Yup. 

Last man on the planet, enjoying and collecting artifacts of the world gone by? Yup.

Last man on the planet, traversing post-apocalyptic ruins of American monuments? Yup.

Last man on the planet, two weeks away from retirement, and all hell breaks loose? Yup.

Last man on the planet, memory wiped, yet still has anachronistic memories left that must mean something? Yup.

And that’s just scratching the surface. There is no originality in this movie, and while sometimes that can be ignored, Oblivion is just so heavy-handed and telegraphed that there’s no surprise, wonder, shock, or enjoyment to be had. If you have seen a movie then you have seen this movie. As in, it is WALL-E meets Moon meets I Am Legend meets Total Recall meets 2001: A Space Odyssey meets every other movie you have experienced.

Every single trope you can call. Every other important line of dialogue you can predict. Every twist is pretty much obvious from the word go. There is not a single ounce of clever writing here, just an entire mess of basic, clichéd writing you’d find in a primary school creative writing class. All it needs is an ending where it was all a dream and you’d have it all, but instead you get everything but. 

Take any of the movies listed above and watch them, for they use the elements Oblivion channels but they do something effective with them. The entire concept of Tom Cruise’s character helping to clean up the Earth for the benefit of humanity was handled masterfully (and with very little dialogue) in WALL-E. Moon is a criminally overlooked Sam Rockwell movie that also travels down similar directions Oblivion does, but does it in a much more effective stroke.

The entire narrative journey of it falls into the hole of the Hollywood blockbuster, but it is such a criminal treatment of the genre, much like how The Last Stand is an insult to the action genre. While you can take many other blockbusters and reduce their formula down to a paint-by-numbers story, Oblivion has the gall to try and be original and mind-blowing, big headed in the way it thinks it’s a groundbreaking story. It is not.

What is even more frustrating is that the film went through four screenwriters, including director Joseph Kosinski and a rewrite by Toy Story 3 and future Star Wars: Episode VII scribe Michael Ardnt. If Arndt’s talents couldn’t save the script, one can only assume how dire the previous drafts were.

Some of the saving graces include the visual and the sound design. Kosinski certainly continues a wonderful aesthetic seen in his previous work: A clean futuristic style where things are almost clinical and toe the line between simplistic and elaborate.

The soundtrack by M.8.3 and Joseph Trapanese however does lack in areas Kosinski’s Tron Legacy didn’t; then again, it is hard to compete with a soundtrack made in collaboration with Daft Punk. Normally this is excusable, but at times it feels as if it’s intentionally trying to follow up Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy score, and ultimately it fails to reach that high.

Oblivion (Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman)Oblivion’s cast does the best with the hand it’s dealt. Cruise does his best Cruise, and other actors such as Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko do their best with the material, but they don’t elevate the story at all.

It is just such a sin against cinema’s rich history, where a film of such a concept treads down so many other existing works and comes off as a supermarket value brand science-fiction blockbuster compared to fine cinematic cuisine. There are already so many movies that tackle many of the same themes, with better dialogue, better twists, better turns, and generally just better ideas.

There should really be no excuse for this movie. It could have taken the concept and turned it on its head. It could have been subtle and contained. It could have removed the whole idea of ‘nukes are bad…save the day with nukes!’ It could have stopped waving America in the audience’s faces. It could have used unknowns, it could have used a smarter script, it could have used so many better things.

But it didn’t, and that is why it fails. 

Just watch WALL-E, folks. It’s much more charming, it has heart, it’s clever, and it’s sweet. Not to mention the fact that the main character’s taller than the one in Oblivion.

Oblivion is out now in cinemas. It stars Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko. Joseph Kosinski directs, and Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt worked on the screenplay.

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