Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell | Written by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek | Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Joseph Kosinski is clearly a director who has a large fondness and respect for the Science Fiction genre. His first directorial effort Tron: Legacy continued the saga of one of the most quintessential Science Fiction films of the 1980’s, although his latest film Oblivion is not a part of a famous franchise it is unquestionably influenced by films of the past. Homages to movies like Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, among others makes it a loving tribute to Science Fiction lore. Any fan will find a plentiful amount of familiar nuggets to appreciate. However, its inability to establish its own identity stops it from being more than a basic amalgamation of bygone ideas. Having quality special effects and plenty of star power make it a fine piece of entertainment, but when it tries to reach for a deeper meaning it fails to satisfy.
Tom Cruise makes up the majority of that star power as he plays Jack, a drone technician assigned to look after a desolate planet Earth. He works alongside his ‘effective team’ member Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) to mop up what’s left before they leave for Saturn’s moon Titan. Earth was attacked by an alien race, and though we won the war the planet was devastated causing the remaining survivors to flee. Kosinski does construct a number of intriguing visuals with this world. Desolate images of a scourged Earth are synonymous with dystopian futures, and this is no different. Of course the imagery is filled with what you expect –world famous monuments in shambles, cities in ruins, and an endless amount of vast wasteland. One image that did stick out was that of a shattered moon hovering over the night sky. It was destroyed in the battle causing the gravity on Earth to rapidly change. This allowed the film to construct unique images of this leftover planet.
Some of the invading alien force has survived the war as well. These ‘Scavs” are dwindling in number, but they still propose a worthwhile threat. It is up to Jack, Victoria, and their drones to keep their impact to a minimum until enough natural resources are gathered for the exile of Earth. Jack is quite apprehensive about leaving his home. There is a level of attachment he does not wish to give up. He stumbles upon information that may explain why his fondness is so strong. The motive behind his mission may not be exactly what he was told. Now Jack and Victoria must decide who they side with—and who truly is the real enemy.
Mystery within the film is rather fluid. There is a consistent chain of reveals that bring down the initial façade. Though there is a dearth of satisfaction in gaining this knowledge, because you tend to know the answer before the question is ever asked. Once you introduce an idea like ‘memory wipes’ without providing a proper explanation it becomes evident there is foolery amuck. Foreshadowing is a huge part of great storytelling, but there is a difference between foreshadowing and shinning a beacon of light to where the story is going. Part of the issue is the heavy reliance on past films. Shots are directly taken from movies like Star Wars, and are cleverly peppered throughout. The problem is it clues you in to the avenues the film may travel down. Expectations are never used against the audience. They are only met with absolute agreement. It is like listening to someone cover a famous song, instead of producing their own property. Melodies may have been adjusted—though the chorus still remains the same.
Adding insult to injury is the amount of conceits the storyline requires you to make. If you try to connect the dots in a logically way frustration will ensue. Inconsistencies in the capabilities of the main antagonist are a big part of the issue. How someone could be the pinnacle of supreme intelligence and so easily tricked was a question that bogged down an otherwise successful conclusion. Although it clearly has issues, Oblivion is not void of enjoyment. Kosinski has the ability to build tension in individual scenes quite well. Action beats were both exciting and well edited. A midair chase sequence inside a cramped canyon was one sequence that stood out above the rest. Futuristic technology allowed for some masterful aerial combat. Special effects in general were handled supremely well. The technology had perfect white sheen to it as if Apple’s worldwide takeover had become complete. There were a number of inventions that were both practical and full of imagination. A floating swimming pool shimmering in the night sky was a stunning take on future capabilities.
Imagination was however absent from the actual plot. The script was run-of-the-mill with a severe lack of new ideas. Science Fiction is known for using fantastical stories as an allegory for current conflict, and that is again the case here. Universal themes of identity, humanity, and our humanistic need for loving relationships are touched upon in some way. Again the insights are deficient in gaining any form of great significance. The superior films it emulates garner far more validity with their ideals. Certain directors, like Quentin Tarantino, can wear their influences on their sleeves and still create cinema that is distinctively their own. They can take their source material and bring it to an entirely different level. Joseph Kosinski shows some talent as a director and he surely has great intentions. Without solid material behind him however, his films have yet to hit his high aspirations. Oblivion is not a total misfire as shines a number of different occasion. Generous Science Fictions fans will find parts of pure engagement, but it will be hard for anyone not to walk away wanting more. Shiny toys aside, Oblivion is not much more than less than stellar rerun of a previous era.