Oblivion Review

The Plot:

In the aftermath of an apocalyptic nuclear war against alien invaders the Earth has become an inhospitable wasteland. Humanity has taken refuge on the distant Moon of Titan, leaving behind machines to salvage what’s left of the planet’s precious natural resources. Jack Harper is one of the few humans left behind to protect those machines from the remnant of the defeated alien army. With just weeks left until his mission is completed he finds himself increasingly haunted by strange dreams and unanswered questions. What he discovers in the wreckage of a crashed spaceship might change everything.

The Good:

Oblivion is an ambitious and intelligent science fiction film developed over 8 years by Writer and Director Joseph Konsinski. It’s refreshing given that Hollywood studios so often see the genre simply as an excuse to distract from a bad plot and worse acting with excessive CGI. Much like his directorial debut TRON Legacy, Konsinski again tries to balance action with complex philosophical ideas, this time with more convincing success.

Like Konsinski’s  TRON reboot, Oblivion is also very visually compelling. The vast post-apocalyptic landscape provided by the untouched wilds of real life Iceland is bleakly beautiful. It’s a fantastic backdrop and an emotive canvas that helps set the melancholic tone of the story. It also conveys an immediate sense of epic scale and significance. Given the film’s minimalist cast, that grandeur is a particularly valuable asset.

The natural wonders of Iceland’s primordial wastelands are complimented very well by laudable special effects. Incorporating the weather-beaten ruins of destroyed skyscrapers and recognisable landmarks into this alien landscape makes it convincingly apocalyptic. Likewise the advanced technology of this distant future has a believably elegant simplicity. From Harper’s home among the clouds to the spacecraft he pilots and the battle drones he repairs, it all looks and feels real. It’s a very successful combination of tactile practical effects and intricate CGI.

Ignoring special effects and scenery, Tom Cruise remains one of Hollywood’s most dependable leading men. His consistently intense and understated performances have allowed him to be successfully heroic for decades; in spite of his distracting superstar status and tendency to play implausibly invincible secret agents. Oblivion clearly plays to his strengths in a way that suggests the project was perhaps deliberately crafted with that goal in mind. He has ample opportunity to expertly display his talents for stoic determination in the face of danger.

Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman also provide solid support for Cruise, to keep the film from ever becoming a one man show. Rising starlet Riseborough in particular delivers a superb display as Harper’s possessive mission partner Victoria.

The Bad:

Either by accident or deliberate homage many elements of Oblivion are borrowed piecemeal from classic sci-fi films and novels. Oblivion clearly fuses old favourites like Planet of the Apes and Total Recall with more recent films like Moon and Wall-E. This may mean that despite its obvious intentions to be thought provoking and original, Oblivion might feel oddly familiar and a little predictable for hardened genre fans.

Ironically at the same time those hoping for the uncomplicated explosive spectacle of Independence Day or Transformers may find Oblivion’s slow pace and meditative tone less instantly satisfying.

The strength of the film’s supporting cast isn’t always exploited as much as it could be, mostly due to the film’s resilient focus on Tom Cruise’s central character. Morgan Freeman in particular feels underused in what almost amounts to an extended cameo. This might not help those who aren’t natural fans of Cruise’s trademark heroics, as a great deal of the film is carried on his furrowed brow.

The Ugly Truth:

Oblivion should please science fiction fans without alienating general blockbuster crowds. Whether you’re able to easily predict the film’s twisting narrative or left surprised and occasionally confused; regardless you can still enjoy the film’s action and memorable visuals.

In depth video interviews below with Tom Cruise, the cast and Director Joseph Konsinski:

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