“Oblivion” is so visually crisp and clean that you could actually brush your teeth with it. Director Joseph Kosinski, who pieced together the aesthetically immaculate “Tron: Legacy” takes a similar approach in adapting his graphic novel for the big screen, and with some solid screen writing help, “Oblivion” feels especially worth of the “science-fiction” label.
“Oblivion” moves beyond post-apocalyptic fiction clichés by borrowing some from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the sci-fi indie “Moon.” It fixes squarely on its main character, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), which is simultaneously a strength and a point of weakness, but most importantly prevents it from getting too emotionally hollow.
The key is that “Oblivion” successfully deceives its audience and keeps things mysterious and exciting for two hours, even if its very nature demands a lot of skeptical questions.
Harper is a drone repairman in 2077, 60 years after Earth was ravaged due to an alien attack on the moon. Drones keep an eye out for stranded aliens attempting to spoil humanity’s last-ditch effort to harvest ocean water so life can continue on one of Saturn’s moons. Jack lives with his partner in life and work, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), but he dreams of another woman (Olga Kurylenko) and the past in New York City, which he cannot understand because that was before he was born. When he discovers the woman in his dreams in a crash-landed pod on Earth’s surface, it unleashes a whole set of questions.
Buying into the film and this story turns out to be pretty easy thanks to Kosinski’s pristine direction, and the poetic voice-over narration throughout ups this film to above-average sci-fi movie intelligence. A strong artistic vision and an intriguing story are pivotal in any movie that’s part of a genre so steeped in suspension of disbelief; “Oblivion” has those hooks firmly in place.
Any sci-fi film involving a comprehensive context/backstory will draw plot hole or logic skeptics like a wake of hungry buzzards, and “Oblivion” compounds those issues with its plot twists and an ending that seems far more simple than the rest of the film. The satisfaction of the result doesn’t have to be connected to the excitement of watching it unfold and there’s a definite difference in this instance.
The actual issue is that all the time spent on exposition, explanation and Jack’s character doesn’t leave too much room for the rest of the cast. Morgan Freeman’s role as a leader of a group of survivors doesn’t have as much weight as the script would like to believe it does and his right hand, played by Nickolaj Coaster-Waldau amounts to nothing more than a moment of “whoa, it’s Jaime Lannister!” The script doesn’t satisfy our curiosity to understand them and learn more about them. We care way more about what happens to Jack.
A few shallower areas, however, are no indicator of a hollow core. “Oblivion” is far more than just visual flair and a pulsing contemporary score. It has a discernible heartbeat and does some original and exciting things within the sci-fi genre, which is never easy.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Written by Carl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt, Joseph Kosinski (graphic novel)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman