Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Director Joseph Kaminski hasn’t been in the business for long, but his second feature, Oblivion, is just as ambitious a science-fiction extravaganza as his first, 2010’s Tron: Legacy. Starring Tom Cruise, Oblivion is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the Earth has been ravished by nuclear war, the aliens who caused this are still at large, and the moon has exploded. No, I’m not sure why the moon has exploded either. 

Jack Harper (Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are left on Earth, supervising the hydroelectric generators and armed drones which collect energy for humanity’s offworld colony. Victoria, looking forward to leaving Earth at the end of their shift, does everything by the book. Does Jack? Hell no, he’s Tom Cruise. When a spaceship crashes and the orders from Mission Control are to stay away, Harper goes to take a look. Inevitably, this results in a lot of shooting, a lot of fast space helicopter flying, and the discovery of survivor Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who changes everything. 

The most popular criticism of Oblivion is that it's too derivative. Yes, it clearly takes influence from Top Gun, Independence Day, and 2001, plus a chunk of Wall-E minus the charm, but hey, there’s no such thing as an original story. It takes these tropes and uses them in a plot which moves along energetically with a lot of twists and turns. Some twists can be seen from a mile off, some will remind you of films you’ve seen before, and one or two are genuinely interesting. If you can ignore the influences and concentrate on the world of Oblivion, they come often enough to keep you compelled. It's a grand, ambitious, and enjoyable story, if predictable. 

I’m not a fan of Tom Cruise and this film didn’t convince me otherwise. Not through lack of trying; he certainly plays up to his action movie credentials, zooming around on a space motorbike, shooting stuff up from his space helicopter, and wearing sunglasses like only a professional sunglasses wearer could. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that all this is overcompensating for something – a lack of charisma, maybe. I just wish he’d done less and Olga Kurylenko more, as she's the one with good screen presence. Her Julia shows the occasional sign of being able to match up to Harper in the badass department, but is ultimately rendered by the script subservient to Cruise’s hero, used as the love interest he must fight to protect. 

Riseborough’s Victoria, meanwhile, is a contrast to the other two leads in her reluctance to actively fight the system, stemming from her desperation to escape to a better world. This makes her a complex character which Riseborough pulls off rather well, making her awkward relations with Harper and Julia tense and intriguing. Victoria is annoying at all the right times and I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for her. I don’t understand why she needed the glamourous heels though. There’s nothing wrong with caring about your appearance, but most women left to poke at a computer screen on a post-apocalyptic wasteland for years wouldn’t be forgiven for taking a hoody and some slippers. 

Speaking of questionable costumes, let’s not forget Morgan Freeman. Well, how could we? He does get second billing in the credits and joins Cruise on the poster. Which isn’t really fair given his limited screen time. While I don’t want to give too much away, his character shows up later in the film as an archetypal character of the post-apocalyptic genre and doesn’t add anything original to this trope. Indeed, his sections of the film are, sadly, the parts where I most found myself checking my watch. Though his character may be the worst written in the film, his costume will at least be memorable. If you’ve seen Beneath the Planet of the Apes, it’s that kind of ridiculously camp. 

Where Oblivion is particularly strong, however, is in its visuals, and that’s down to Claudio Miranda, the Director of Photography who recently picked up an Academy Award for Life of Pi. Miranda and director Kaminski certainly make an effective team; visually, Oblivion is magnificent. From American landmarks turned to rubble to the ruins of a collapsing library, all shot in wide, sweeping vistas, there’s a lot to look at. 

Which is a good thing, because the generic plot isn’t guaranteed to keep your attention all the way through. Oblivion is, at its worst, plodding, predictable, and unbalanced, but at its best, a fast and entertaining ride. For me, the biggest issue is my lack of engagement with Cruise and the eventual passiveness of Julia, but it’s definitely got enough nicely-composed action and carefully structured twists to be worth the ticket price, for sci-fi fans in particular.

1 comment:

  1. A dense movie with some very good performance and logic ..but then story contains some illogical facts and quite a few loop holes.......... but then again the way movie describes human emotion and technology is good