Attempting to sum up director Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion after walking out of the screening this past Tuesday, I came up with the following equation:
Wall-E + Tron: Legacy + The Matrix = Oblivion
Looking around online since, I’ve seen people make similar comparisons, so I know my formula is sound. And though it wears its influences on its sleeve, I enjoyed Oblivion quite a bit. The only problem is that it’s the kind of film that’s hard to review without spoiling it — the trailers have given too much away as it is — and I’m really not a fan of putting spoilers out there, even with a warning tacked up front. I’m sure a big part of why I enjoyed the film so much was because I went in pretty cold, so I’m going to try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
Oblivion’s story unfolds a piece at a time, and you won’t get the full reveal until the film’s final minutes. But it’s this mysterious nature of the movie’s plot that provides the bulk of the enjoyment. It’s a film that guides you through the dark with a flashlight that only gives off a few feet of illumination ahead of you, yet it managed to hold my interest throughout its run time.
The movie opens with a convenient little montage featuring a voice-over from Tom Cruise’s Harper, who explains why the Earth is in its currently devastated state. All signs point to attack by aliens (vaguely referred to as “scavs,” short for scavengers) that resulted in our moon getting pulverized, which in turn caused earthquakes, tsunamis and all sorts of ecological unpleasantries to wreak havoc on our world. Nukes are used as a final solution to quell the alien invasion, which naturally makes the world pretty much uninhabitable and forces the citizens of Earth to flee to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Harper, along with his teammate/significant other, Victoria (played with wide eyed earnestness by Andrea Riseborough), act as a clean up/maintenance crew back on Earth, with the pair taking orders from an overly enthusiastic woman named Sally (Melissa Leo), who’s stationed on “the Tet,” a space station orbiting overhead.
Their job is relatively simple and mostly involves Harper repairing automated gunner drones that are damaged by the scavs still lingering on Earth. The drones protect these huge fusion reactors that transform sea water into energy, something that the people on Titan desperately need to survive, so it’s doubly important that Harper and Victoria are on top of this.
Harper, however, can’t explain the memories he continues to have after the mandatory mind wipe he received as a part of his assigned duty, memories of the observation deck on the Empire State Building and of a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko) whom he knows but can’t identify. Things are further complicated when a NASA shuttle crash lands on the surface, and Harper finds none other than the mystery woman from his memory/flashbacks unconscious in one of the sleep pods. It’s an intense scene that’s better left unspoiled, but it’s the moment where reality starts to unravel for Harper and the true nature of his existence becomes more of a question than a certainty.
Harper is your typical “Tom Cruise” character, and Cruise plays him in his usual but still very likable everyman style. He doesn’t necessarily have a deep well of depth to him, but that’s not really needed to tell this particular story, which relies more on plot surprises than character. My gut tells me that if this movie does well, Kurylenko is going to receive quite a bit of buzz. When she first shows up on screen, you’re literally face to face with one of the most beautiful creatures ever committed to film. Some of you may already know her from Quantum of Solace, but this is the film that’s gonna put her in the spotlight. I think most of the people in my audience fell in love with her, ladies included. Thankfully, Kurylenko also has real acting chops and the necessary chemistry with Cruise, and her character proves to be one of the strongest facets of the film.
Morgan Freeman is one of those actors that only need several minutes to sell their awesomeness, and, as usual, the man works wonders with the screen time he has allotted here. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau even clocks in for a bit, which is sure to please a few of the Game of Thrones fans in the crowd. There’s also a wonderful score by M83, which is equal parts bombastic and somber at times, a perfect complement to what’s going on onscreen.
The visuals are spectacular and the sound mix is pretty goddamn active and loud, which makes seeing this in IMAX somewhat of a necessity. What you see in terms of aesthetics is very much in line with Kosinski’s first film, Tron: Legacy, only on a much brighter palette. There are a number of impressively realized moments, one of my favorites being a nighttime dip in a pool that anyone would want for their own. The movie isn’t presented in 3D, which is a good thing as it would’ve undoubtedly dampened those visuals. The lush cinematography of Oblivion speaks volumes without any unnecessary gimmickry.*
Cruise and sci-fi go pretty well together, and while this film isn’t really on par with the Steven Spielberg classic Minority Report (or even War of the Worlds), Oblivion still makes a worthy addition to the rest of Cruise’s entries in the genre. Going back to my aforementioned formula, what nitpicking can be made about the film is that it all feels a bit familiar. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll compare this film to the three I’ve mentioned above at some point during its run time. Oblivion tackles well-worn sci-fi themes by attempting to be a meditation on life and what truly makes us human, yet the end result is highly entertaining, even if it’s a mishmash of other films. The movie is a great way to warm up for the inevitable summer movie madness and a film that sees a more confident director in Kosinski. Can’t wait to see what else this guy comes up with in the future.
* I was fortunate to speak with Kosinski immediately after the screening, and I asked him about the lack of 3D. His response was he felt 3D made for too dark of a picture and that he needed the film to be as vibrant as possible without sacrificing the visuals. I can’t fault him for wanting to make sure that his film looked good up on the screen because it really is stunning.