Halfway through the fourth month of the year, things are finally starting to look up as we pass from the doldrums of spring to the excitement of the summer blockbuster season. So far, 2013 has been a pretty dismal year, but with Iron Man 3 just a few weeks away I finally feel like I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of my 10 Most Anticipated Movies of the Year, Oblivion is only the second to hit theaters (the first being the mind-numbingly disappointing A Good Day to Die Hard). As a result, there was a pretty high bar the movie had to reach in order to give me any sense of optimism for the coming months. As usual, I did my best to shield myself from reading any early reviews but from my peripheral understanding people seem to have decidedly mixed feelings over director Joseph Kosinski’s follow up to his 2010 directorial debut; Tron: Legacy. Luckily, not that I’ve actually seen the finished product I can assure you that this stands as a noticeable step up for Kosinski, and I have no doubt that his upward progress won’t stop any time soon. Oblivion borrows fairly heavily from many other modern science fiction films, but outstanding visuals and an impressively ambitious story are more than enough to distinguish it from the rest of the pack.
The Plot: 7/10
A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.
There’s very little I can say here without spoiling things seeing as the movie’s promised twists are one of its biggest draws. What I can say is that the story line goes through a lot of hoops to make you curious as to what the hell is really going on, but in doing so it walks a fine line between intrigue and outright confusion. When you work this many twists and turns into a movie like this, what really matters in the end is how well you explain what’s happening in a satisfying way. Even though many of these explanations take their sweet time in arriving, I will give the movie credit for managing to plug up most of the plot holes I observed. That being said, several of the biggest twists here count among the most damning elements of the film in terms of how liberally they pull from other movies (I won’t say which ones so as to avoid spoilers).
The Writing: 6/10
In addition to directing the film, Kosinski also took the primary role in writing the screenplay. While the man seems like a natural when it comes to effects, staging, and camera work, his lack of experience shows through the awkwardness of some of his writing. In this case, Oblivion suffers from similar issues as Tron: Legacy does in that it’s characters just don’t feel all that human. Jack is given plenty of development in terms of his Wall-E-ish collection of Old Earth relics, but very few of the other characters have any defining attributes to speak of. Of course, some of this is can be explained through eventual plot developments, but it’s just not enough to make up for the flatness of characters themselves.
The Acting: 6/10
I have my issues with Tom Cruise and his self-obsessed mid-life crisis that reached its apex with last year’s Jack Reacher, but there’s not a single part of me that denies that the man has the sort of natural charisma that very few other people in Hollywood can claim. Thankfully, Oblivion feels like much less of an ego boost for cruise than Reacher did. Cruise is still just as fun to watch now as he was 20 years ago, and I give him a lot of credit for making the movie work on any “human” level whatsoever.
Oblivion also shows that, once again, Morgan Freeman can never be anything but a huge bonus to any film he’s in. His role is pretty light here and I couldn’t help but feel like Beech is just a poor man’s Morphius, but he’s still a great presence whenever he’s onscreen no matter what you think of the plot twists he brings about. I also loved that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Jaime Lannister) gets at least a few legitimately bad ass moments, despite the otherwise complete lack of depth to his character
Unfortunately, the women of Oblivion leave a lot to be desired. Andrea Risenborough does a decent job from an acting standpoint, but her character is just so odd and confusingly motivated that I never really found myself caring about what happens to her. Olga Kurylenko is also pretty flat as Julia, a mysterious woman whose arrival shakes things up for Jack and Victoria on a seismic level. Kurylenko looks good and all, but her lifeless performance and complete and utter lack of chemistry with Cruise make her easily forgettable.
The Sci-Fi: 9/10
As you can probably guess from the trailers, the film’s visuals are nothing short of magnificent. Between the amazing looking storm fronts and post-apocalyptic vistas to the sterile, futuristic look of the technology, I firmly believe that Oblivion stands alongside last year’s visual knockout Prometheus in terms of visual bang-for-your-buck. I highly recommend that you catch this in IMAX if you are able, the sights and sounds here make it the best use of the format I’ve seen all year.
As for the actual mechanics of this fictional, futuristic world, things are still pretty cool but there’s just nothing quite original enough to really hit home. If you haven’t seen a whole lot of modern science fiction, this probably won’t bother you that much but I know that there are quite a few people out there who will roll their eyes at some of the genre cliches the movie’s premises contain (again, I wish I could say more but spoilers are around every corner here)
The Verdict: 7.5/10 – Superior
+ One of the most beautiful and well-crafted post-apocalyptic landscapes I’ve ever seen
+ An ambitious story that (mostly) plugs up its own plot holes
+ Even at 50, Tom Cruise still feels at home in this sort of role
- The human aspects of the story just don’t hit home on the same level as the visuals
Rotten Tomatoes: 59%
Tim’s Film Reviews: 92%
Keith at the Movies: 4/5
The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5
Let’s Go to the Movies: “Definitely worth a watch”
Black Sheep Reviews: 3/5
Mercifully Short Reviews: 6/10
Fast Film Reviews: 2/5