Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt
Science Fiction/Action/Adventure, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes
Scott, we just saw Oblivion. I think the writers were Oblivious to what makes a good story.
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
What we have here is all-too familiar. A movie with so much potential but so little delivery on that potential.
Oblivion is Tom Cruise’s latest offering. He stars as Jack Harper, a tech on a futuristic Earth. The Earth has been been in a war with an alien race – the Scavengers. We won the battle, but the Earth was decimated. So, all human life has been transplanted on Saturn’s moon Titan. Meanwhile, Jack and his girlfriend are part of a mop-up crew that is responsible for siphoning off the Earth’s oceans and ridding the planet of remaining “Scavs.”
So far so good. But all is not what it seems. Jack discovers that a Scavs’ beacon has sent down a 60-year-old satellite containing several humans frozen in stasis. Only one of these humans, a woman, survives and triggers some older, hidden memories in Jack. We don’t want to reveal what happens next, but let’s just say that the arrival of this woman turns Jack’s world entirely upside-down, and he spends much of the movie diving for cover from weapons fired at him from futuristic drones.
And this is the beginning of the problem with Oblivion – we had to wait for half the movie before this important plot point. Getting there was interminable. We had to wade through Jack getting abducted and escaping with no particular effect on the plot.
The strange thing about this movie is that the CGI is flawless. Someone spent a lot of money on the production. But the script is a mess. I found myself asking how this movie ever got made. Morgan Freeman makes an appearance but cannot save this movie. It is long, boring and I didn’t care a whit about anyone in it.
I’m not quite as harsh in my assessment, but I do agree with you that the movie was long on impressive visual effects and short on character development. Filmmakers have got it in their heads that the only thing audiences want is stunning visuals, explosions, and chase scenes. It’s true, I enjoyed those elements and absolutely loved the futuristic technologies, especially Jack’s supremely cool little spaceship that zips around the atmosphere with the grace of an insect-like ballerina.
We recently reviewed an old classic, Groundhog Day, which owed its emotional punch to the striking transformation of the lead character. Many movies today — especially Tom Cruise movies — are designed to be pleasing to the eye but atrophying to the brain. Characters don’t develop, they just react to bullets. It’s discouraging in a movie like this because there is so much potential for the story to rise to the level of the CGI.
As a hero, Jack is pretty bland. His memory has been wiped which makes character development difficult. He is good at running around, shooting things up and doesn’t look bad in the shower. But since he comes from nowhere he has nowhere to go. He isn’t a bad guy, so he can’t get better. He’s just a man trapped in a situation and makes some decisions that seem heroic.
Scott and I have agreed not to give away more than the first act of a movie – no spoilers. So it is difficult to explain why I have such low regard for this movie. But suffice it to say that it employs several classic Science Fiction devices that simply don’t make any sense. On top of that, the usual markers that expose when the first act is over are missing here. This movie is just scene after scene of beautifully constructed CGI. And terribly constructed story elements.
I think we’ve made our point. It’s not a bad movie if you just want to turn your brain off and enjoy gorgeous people juxtaposed with dazzling computer effects. For that reason, I give Oblivion 2 Reels out of 5.
As Greg notes, our hero Jack Harper does look good and manages to act with virtue while navigating through the convoluted story. He’s also great at dodging weaponry, taking punches, and making out with sultry women. As viewers, we really needed more backstory about the kind of man he was before the war started. That would have given his character more depth, dimensionality, and room for growth. I give him 2 Heroes out of 5.
Dull, dull, and more dull. This is the first in a summer full of Science Fiction movies. I hope the rest of the Summer goes better. I think it’s generous, but I also give this movie 2 Reels and 2 Heroes.