Oblivion is about as close to hard Science Fiction as a blockbuster Hollywood film has been since Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Drawing inspiration from a vast array of stories and movies from the genre, Oblivion is ultimately a mash-up of just about every science fiction trope you can find. It’s a sleek and sexy production, complete with the amazing visual and audio style of its Director Joseph Kosinski who made his debut with Tron: Legacy. It drives its story with a complex mystery that is engaging and thought provoking, but it struggles to find room for its characters.
Set around 2070 the story focuses on Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They are all that remains of humanity on Earth after it was devastated by Nuclear war against an Alien race dubbed the Scavengers or Scavs. They repair drones, automated killing machines that protect giant energy production facilities against what remains of the Scavs on Earth. These facilities are producing energy to send what remains of humanity currently residing in a giant space station orbiting Earth to Titan (one of Jupiter’s Moons). However, when Jack finds Julia (Olga Kurylenko) among the wreckage of a crashed space craft, he questions everything he knows about the war and his purpose.
It’s not a simple story, and the film knows it. It spends an awful lot of time on exposition that I would have preferred wasn’t so spoon fed. The structure of the story is episodic, in that every 20 minutes or so of its two hour plus running time you are drip fed another piece of information. It’s not a bad way to tell a story of this kind, but as you hurtle towards the end the twists and turns start to dry up as the writer clearly ran out of ideas. It’s a shame, because a number of the revelations are quite enjoyable, detailed, and thoughtful. It would have been best perhaps to simplify the entire narrative a little more to just these few, discard the rest, and give a little more breathing space to the characters.
The film does waste its actors, with the likes of Melissa leo and Morgan Freeman in supporting roles that are so paper thin in depth that they may as well not have been there. Olga too is completely wasted, seemingly there for eye candy and to look worried from time to time. Cruise and Riseborough on the other hand do get enough time to develop themselves, and they make a decent job of it. You forget it’s Tom Cruise pretty quickly (which is high praise for him) and Riseborough does her best to cement the emotional core of the film. The ground work was laid, but the Director seemingly didn’t want to delve too deep into any of the characters.
Oblivion is just a cut above your standard Hollywood action film as it strives to tell an intelligent story, albeit with its emphasis on entertainment rather than anything deep and meaningful. There are a lot of heady concepts that could have created a compelling and challenging narrative, but the film steers clear of them. It stumbles towards the end, and ultimately leaves a trail of plot holes and head scratching moments. I think most audiences will enjoy what this has to offer, even if it’s just to marvel at its scope and marvelous visuals.