Oblivion Review

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TRON: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski‘s latest sci-fi action film Oblivion is a complete misfire, throwing away a sizable budget, Tom Cruise and a more-than-capable cast on a concept that’s predictable, lazy and far from original. Aside from M83‘s work on the film’s score, Oblivion is nothing more than a film that’s occasionally nice to look at on the big screen, but there’s nothing going on beneath the surface, despite Kosinski’s several attempts to inject the film with complexity and meaning.

In the near future Earth gets attacked and the planet becomes a wasteland. Most of the humans have migrated elsewhere in the solar system, while a few hang back to extract what’s left of the planet’s natural resources. Jack (Tom Cruise) is part of the maintenance crew in charge of mopping up the mess on Earth, while also fixing drone robots that constantly scan the globe for alien threats.

Jack’s also a dreamer though and occasionally he has these weird flashback-type dreams that constantly focus on a happier version of himself with another woman. His constant struggle with accepting that this is Earth and that soon he’ll be leaving it for good is something that doesn’t sit well with him and eventually his curiosity takes over.

He discovers something, which quickly leads him to wanting to find out more and more about what actually happened and how he became the man that he is today. Sometimes the strongest human emotions can overcome even the most powerful grips placed upon us.

Joseph Kosinski‘s Oblivion is definitely not the original sci-fi film that we’ve been waiting so desperately for. The film promised itself as something original and new in a world full of remakes and sequels and unfortunately it’s not much better than the latest studio sequel. Why? Because Kosinski and his writing team fail to deliver anything that resembles an actual story.

Oblivion has a single character that you’re kind of supposed to care about, but the rest are afterthoughts and simple plot devices placed in specific scenes to help reveal a twist or movement that can be seen from a mile away.

Morgan Freeman is in the film for a whole ten minutes. His scenes are brief and pointless, when they should be pivotal and important. Freeman does a fine job smoking a cigar and looking like a veteran, because he’s a class act and his on-screen presence is always appreciated, but it is clear very early on that this was nothing more than a paycheck for him.

Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough play Jack’s love interests and to a further extent represent the film’s only beating pulse. Each character’s purpose has a drastically different impact on Jack, yet when it’s all said and done there’s nothing that actually connects either of them to Jack for more than five minutes at a time.

There’s just no heartbeat in this entire film.

Oblivion-Trailer-Screenshot

Tom Cruise leads with his usual amount of charisma and energy. He tones down on the bad ass persona and instead plays another one of his “normal guy” routines, which is basically Cruise being better at everything and making things look ten times cooler than if an actual normal man were doing them. Cruise has a knack for these straight-forward roles and in his defense he gives Kosinski more than enough to work with.

But the script is bad. And I do mean very bad.

There are ten minute scenes between Cruise and Riseborough that act as nothing more than eye candy. The two exchange five cruddy words and then stare at each other blankly, so that Kosinski can swoop around them with a camera, highlighting the film’s extensive use of CGI. Oblivion certainly looks like the budget was put to good use for the effect reels, but would it have killed them to polish up the script and maybe trim out one or six scenes of dialogue that don’t further the plot, but instead give Kosinski another reason to show off his barren wasteland set?

When push comes to shove Kosinski falls flat on his ass. Every single idea is ripped off from a much better piece of science fiction work. The ideas that Kosinski plays with feel cheap and rushed through, as Jack spends 75% of the time cruising around the film on his cool aircraft. There’s no real exploration into the film’s material, instead there’s just Jack constantly asking himself why.

He finds out why and so does the audience, by way of laughable and forced flashbacks towards the film’s later moments. When this happens all things are lost and every good grace Kosinski earned, if any, are wasted.

People have drawn comparisons between Oblivion and other popular pieces of original sci-fi that I don’t want to name specifically due to spoiler reasons, but I do want to comment on them. Oblivion has no real comparisons, because it’s a hollow piece of cinema that steals concepts from other films and tries to pass it off as its own.

Kosinski definitely nails what little action the film has. There’s a shootout sequence towards the end of the film that shows some clear fluid motion and Kosinski’s understanding of how to shoot moving action without hugging his characters too close, but the rest of the film is lacking that same craft. His storytelling is weak and his ability to focus on interesting characters is far from perfect.

Even Tom Cruise struggles saving this film. It’s mostly directionless and just another good example of how Kosinski fails as a filmmaker. The only real saving grace comes from the score, which was composed by M83, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese. Their work is splendid and gives the film a unique sound that balances with Kosinski’s larger shots. The score reminded me a lot of the music used in TRON: Legacy and partially of the original Terminator film.

Oblivion is a disappointing failure. It deserves some points for attempting to be original, because I’d rather support an interesting failure than another studio-funded sequel, while at the same time I think Joseph Kosinski needs to slow down and pay more attention to his scripts. His visuals are fine and his action shooting is improving, but none of that matters when the film’s core is cold and rotten. It all eventually breaks down and crumbles apart long before the audience gets a chance to latch onto it.

A sizable budget and a suitable cast are mostly wasted on a predictable concept that is never fleshed out properly. Oblivion relies on the safest route possible and because of that Kosinski fails to give us something that we haven’t seen before. Cruise does fine work, but even he can’t save something like this.

Oblivion – 6.5/10

*The IMAX presentation is occasionally stunning to look at and almost always great to hear, but I’d have a hard time justifying the premium ticket price for this film.*

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