REVIEW: “Oblivion”

Oblivion Poster

Since his questionable comments and ill advised sofasaults on Oprah, Tom Cruise has become an actor that many people love to hate. But those things are in the past and as wacky as they were they still didn’t effect the level of his onscreen work. He’s a talented actor who throughout his career has tackled a wide variety of roles in iconic 80’s cheesefests, stirring and emotional dramas, big budgeted franchises, and even sci-fi thrillers. Now he returns to the science fiction genre in “Oblivion”, a much more direct and vast sci-fi picture than Cruise’s other efforts.

“Oblivion” is co-written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, the man behind Disney’s $400 million money maker “Tron: Legacy”. Disney originally purchased the rights to “Oblivion” in hopes of repeating Tron’s success but later relinquished the rights. It was quickly gobbled up by Universal Studios with Tom Cruise and Jessica Chastain set to star in the picture. Chastain would eventually drop out for “Zero Dark Thirty” with Olga Kurylenko replacing her. The movie is based on Kosinski’s unpublished graphic novel and was given an ambitious $120 million budget.

I have to say I was really excited for “Oblivion”even though the studio was very cryptic in regards to the film’s details. That’s a good approach to take because I found that the less you know going in the more effective the story will be. And for me it was quite effective. “Oblivion” doesn’t fall into the category of a science fiction masterpiece but thanks to its visionary conception, stunning effects, and some strong committed performances it doesn’t miss by much.

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Now there have been three main criticisms hurled at “Oblivion”. Some have complained about its thin plot. Others took off points for its lack of originality. And yet others have had problems with the lack of any meaningful character development. I certainly don’t flippantly dismiss any of these gripes but I don’t necessarily agree with them either. There’s a lot going on in “Oblivion” and while it does borrow from several other sci-fi pictures, the same could be said for most science fiction. As for the lack of character development, that may be true but I found there to be a good and needed reason for it.

Like I said the less you know the better so I’m not going to spoil anything by divulging any significant details. The film is set in 2077 during the aftermath of a war with an alien species known as the Scavengers. The Scavs (as they’re affectionally called) destroyed our moon which sent Earth into a series of natural and environmental convulsions. A full invasion of Earth followed. The humans won the war but the planet was left ravaged and in disrepair. The surviving population now inhabit one of Saturn’s moons called Titan. Now if a sci-fi movie wants to score points with me just give me a futuristic world that’s not only visually impressive but that I can get lost in. That certainly happened here and even if you do have issues with the story, no one can say this isn’t an expressive setting.

Cruise plays Jack Harper one of the last people left on the planet. He works as a technician who does security and repair work as humanity tries to salvage the last bit of resources from the planet. His lone co-worker is Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). She oversees Jack’s work and reports back to their commanding officer Sally (Melissa Leo). Jack and Victoria have only two weeks left before they get to join the others on Titan, something she’s very excited about. Naturally things can’t go without a hitch. A series of events triggered by the appearance of a mysterious woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) catapult the story into some fun and rather exciting directions.

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I can honestly say I completely bought into this premise. For the most part it’s a well conceived storyline that undeniably takes from several other familiar sci-fi films. But it works for me mainly because of how intelligently it took all of these components and put them together to form what I think is a very competent and compelling science fiction piece. The story itself grabbed me and pulled me into this visual spectacle and I never found myself wanting to check out.

The movie also managed to surprise me. I knew there were twists involved and I had my eyes open for that. For the most part it kept me off balance and had me looking in every direction trying to guess where things were going. While I did eventually figure some things out before they were revealed on screen, it didn’t hurt my experience whatsoever. I also appreciate how this wasn’t a movie of wall-to-wall action. Don’t misunderstand me, there is action, some of it spectacular. But to my surprise the movie spent more time deliberately peeling off layers to the story. Now it may move too glacially for some but I really responded to this approach.

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With all that praise being said, I did think the film flirted with convention a bit too much in the final act. It’s not that it’s terrible and poorly done but for me it didn’t really fit with the way the movie had progressed up to that point. I’m being pretty vague but let’s just say things are a little too on the nose. And while I do think the three main characters aren’t fully developed for good reasons, there are some characters and a particularly important plot point that felt terribly underwritten. This effected a rather important turn that the film takes later on. I’ll also add that there was one big special effects money shot at the end that I felt was a pretty humdrum. Considering the dazzling effects we had been given up till then, I was expecting a bigger payoff. I’ll leave it at that.

Those are my only gripes and even though they do restrain “Oblivion” from being one of the great science fiction pictures, they didn’t kill my experience. In fact I like the film a great deal. Cruise gives another strong lead performance and he’s helped by solid work from Kurylenko and Riseborough. The eye-popping visuals help create a futuristic wonder and the Iceland locations give a perfect sense of desolation. And I haven’t even mentioned the marvelous sound design and the soundtrack from M83 which I found to be a really nice fit. There’s just so much I liked about “Oblivion”. And while I can’t just completely overlook its handful of flaws, they’re easy to get past especially when you were as intrigued and glued to the screen as I was.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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39 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Oblivion”

  1. I’m totally with you. Not a perfect sci-fi, but still quite good. It helped a lot that I didn’t know a thing about it on beforehand and that I’m stupid enough not to anticipate any of the twists. Writing about those spoiler sensitive movies is a bit tricky, isn’t it? I usually spend most of my reviews of such movies talking about something else. 🙂

    • You’re right, it is tricky. I definitely didn’t want to give away too much. Like you, I thought this was a lot of fun. It’s getting a wide range of reviews so far. I have to say I’m really surprised at the number of “disappointed” reviews. I just don’t see that. I was pulled right in from the start and the 2 hour plus running time just flew by!

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  3. I do agree that it’s been treated a little bit unfairly in some quarters. I rated it a bit lower than you, as it did remind me a lot of other science fiction, and in particular another movie whose name I dare not reveal, as it’d spoil it if you haven’t seen it. And I’d hate to spoil it, as I think it’s superior to Oblivion.

    • Appreciate the comments! I could list numerous sci-fi movies that I liked better than Oblivion. Yet I still feel this is good sci-fi. It does have some issues but in the end I realized that I had had tons of fun with it.

  4. Nice review. I do want to see this one and I’ll try to catch it within the next few weeks. I also agree with your statement about Cruise, I really don’t care too much about his personal life, I think he’s a talented actor.

    • He is a solid actor, isn’t he? I’m with ya. But even as far as his personal life, the guys seems to have learned from his past blunders. Now he keeps his personal life personal. He’s not out putting his face in front of cameras trying to get attention. I kinda like that. But that’s all secondary. Like you said, he’s just a good actor, period.

    • I’ll be honest, I don’t fully understand the negative reviews. I know movies are subjective but I don’t see the egregious errors that some people do. Sure it takes from other science fiction but many sci-fi movies do. More importantly to me is that it creates an immersive and fascinating world that I latched onto from the very beginning. It has some bumps in the road but overall I found it very satisfying. I think it’s worth a watch buddy.

  5. I went golfing last night, and you went to the movies. I was hoping someone had a good review this morning–I’m really excited about seeing T.C. in this! Your review is what I predicted the film would be about. As a genre, I love science-fiction. It’s very hard for me to approve of them–they just aren’t original anymore which is an irony. I’m supposed to be blown away with a philosophical or sensory alternate world. The first Matrix, 12 Monkeys, Inception, Minority Report come to mind, to garner it five stars. I’m glad you ranked it four, worth watching on the big screen. Thanks!

    • It’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen for the visuals alone. It’s an impressive and immersive world that’s created and I bought into it from the very start. Now there are some problems especially closer to the end, but I thought the creativity and the way the story was ultimately handled was very satisfying. Anxious to hear your take on it.

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  7. Totally seen everything coming in this and seen everything it borrowed. Still a decent movie given Cruise was good and with a few tweaks and repeating what it did good, could have been very decent indeed.

    • I honestly wasn’t sure where it was going until closer to the end. I had ideas but then the movie would have me questioning in by putting up other potential directions. It honestly didn’t bother me at all.

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  9. Nice one Keith. I enjoyed Oblivion, I just didn’t love it. I thought it looked great and i loved the setting of the whole thing. I just thought some of the relrelationships between the characters felt really flimsy, I didn’t really care about many of them.

    • Thanks man. You’re right, the relationships are a bit flimsy. But on the flipside they almost have to be considering where the story goes. I’ll leave it there but the movie goes in a direction that doesn’t call for a lot of character development. Although as I think about it there are some characters that come later that were really paper thin.

  10. Great review Keith! I’ve decided what my rating for it will be but it’ll be lower than yours. That said, I still think it’s an entertaining sci-fi and Cruise still has leading man charisma, but the plot is REALLY thin. It’s still better than TRON LEGACY but Kosinski is more of a visual guy than a true story-teller. Too bad Chastain dropped out, though Kurylenko was slightly more engaging than I expected.

    • Thanks Ruth. I’m really anxious to hear your thoughts. Maybe I’m giving it too much credit but the plot didn’t bother me. It is pretty straightforward but I like the premise. But it definitely feels like it could’ve had more going on.

      • I will address about the thin plot in my review. I mean I enjoyed it but I felt like there were sooo many un-answered questions that the film never even bother to address. Kosinski was too busy working on all those cool robotic stuff, ahah.

  11. This is the third review I’ve read on this today Keith and all seem to admit that there are flaws. I still really fancy it, though. Excellent write-up bro and I appreciate the positivity.

    • Thanks bro. It really enjoyed it and it seems a bit more than others. I believe there’s more going on under the surface and for me it worked. Hope you enjoyed it as well.

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  14. Waited to read your comments until after I saw it. I liked the story quite well, and there was a good character relationship between Jack and Victoria. The movie looks spectacular. I thought the plot reveals were pretty consistent and interesting. I’ve heard the claims about it being derivative but those were elements not the plot.

    • Exactly. I really didn’t struggle with what many others did. I thought it was a really fun but of sci-fi.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Glad you liked it too.

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