Mark Reviews Movies

Oblivion (2013)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Cast: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity)

Running Time: 2:06

Release Date: 4/19/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 19, 2013

The hero of Oblivion boards his reconnaissance ship, sitting on a platform of a tower that stands high into the clouds. He prepares for takeoff, and there's a brief moment in which we notice that the ship is facing the wrong way—not pointed toward the sky but toward the edifice that serves as both his home and his base of operations. Surely, we anticipate, the vehicle will rise vertically into the sky.

Then, though, in a moment as brief as the one in which we barely register that the ship's position is incorrect, the thing does something unexpected. Its cockpit rises, and for an instant, the whole vessel stands upright on its tail before completing a cartwheel and making a swan dive off the platform into clouds below it.

Does the maneuver look neat? Yes, it most certainly does. Does it make much sense? No, it doesn't, and that contrast pretty much sums up Oblivion. Here is a very fine-looking movie with a simple premise that continually gets bogged down by each new and underdeveloped detail of its plot. It's a movie full of the promise of ideas, and it manages to leave every one of them unfulfilled.

It's the year 2077, and 60 years ago, an alien force destroyed the moon, causing massive earthquakes and tidal waves, and invaded Earth. The aliens nearly won until humanity unleashed its nuclear arsenal, defeating the invaders but leaving the planet a wasteland. The survivors have escaped to Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons, to carry on with civilization.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), who offers that back story twice (once in an opening narration that unnecessarily hand-feeds information that reveals itself far more naturally in the first act and again to another character), and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), Jack's live-in communications officer and significant other, are the only two humans left on the planet. Their memories have been wiped, but Jack has flashes of being with a woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) on the observation deck of the Empire State Building at some time before the war began.

Their job is to maintain and repair the drones that seek and kill off the remaining alien presence, known as Scavengers, on Earth. The Scavs, as Jack nicknames them, are attempting to disrupt the collection of the planet's seawater, which is being collected by giant reactors to be converted to energy for the colony on Titan. In two weeks, Jack and Victoria are scheduled to leave Earth to rendezvous with their commander Sally (Melissa Leo) aboard a giant ship called the Tet that orbits Earth.  From there, they will head to the Saturnian satellite to begin their new lives.

After the clunky dumping of exposition, the movie starts strongly, giving us our bearings to Jack's routine assignments and this desolated Earth that he calls his temporary home. Set to a haunting electronic score (composed by Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese and performed by M83), the omniscient eye of the camera surveys the ruins of civilization that Jack must explore to find drones that the Scavs have damaged. He flies over devastated landmarks, walks atop the buried buildings of New York City (which, conveniently enough, is interred up to the observation deck of its iconic skyscraper), and recalls the story of the final football game played in the rubble of a stadium.

Despite his conservations with Victoria over headsets, it's a solitary existence, especially given that his heart remains with some half-remembered woman, and director Joseph Kosinski (whose graphic novel was adapted by himself, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt) revels in that solitude in between the first act's requisite action sequences. Stark and barren, this is a harsh world that remains, and even Jack's world is a cold place of sterile whites and grays filled with emotionless technology that seems like it could turn on him at any moment. It's no wonder he visits a shack in the woods, where he keeps various cultural mementoes, for an escape.

The plot proper begins when Jack makes the acquaintance of Beech (Morgan Freeman), a human survivor leading a resistance fight against the aliens (His sole purpose is to provide even more exposition), and the technician's perception of his job and the history of the conflict decades ago is turned on its head (making for some very curious behavior from both Jack and the central villain). Then he meets Julia in a contrived bit of convenience (that gives the advancement of technology in the very near future the benefit of the doubt), and his view of his own existence is realigned. The screenplay touches upon the nature of identity—that memories create feelings, which define one's soul—though the concept really only exists for an end-of-second-act twist.

This idea alone holds a lot of promise (It's not the only one here), but as it's flatly presented in the movie (The problem with the other ones), it's just a simplistic, sentimental one. Whatever deeper intentions Oblivion possesses (And it's clear the movie does), they are quickly discarded for a bland action sequence or another twist of the plot.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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