Remember when science fiction films were larger than life and effectively executed? It’s been a while since one actually left a lasting impression, or even something not quite amazing but still fun.
Tom Cruise returns to the genre that is like a second home to him in a film that is a model of blockbuster efficiency. That might sound trite, but considering the many big-budget failures this year alone, efficiency is the new innovation.
Jack Harper (Cruise) and his wife, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), are some of the last humans on Earth, overseeing drone repair for another two weeks before they join the rest of humankind on Saturn’s moon, Titan. In the meantime, Jack spends his days dodging Scavengers (Scavs in slang), repairing technology and wondering if he really wants to leave the planet. But when he comes across a downed escape pod, Jack meets Julia (Olga Kurylenko), the woman from his dreams. Suddenly, Jack’s world crumbles around him, and he seems to be the last person to know it.
Major props to sophomore director Joseph Kosinski, following up “Tron Legacy” with an even more enjoyable contribution to the sci-fi film genre –– one you can publicly enjoy without anyone judging you (I’m guilty, I liked the “Tron” sequel even though I’m aware it’s narrative trash). Sure, plenty of critics hate this one, but trust me, “Oblivion” is “Citizen Kane” compared to most recent sci-fi fare. And even without such a lowered standard, it’s an all-around fun film, though I imagine Kosinski was hoping for something that would transform the sci-fi canon. He’s close, but not quite there.
For years, my best friend Steve said the French electro band M83 sounds like the score of a 1980s dystopian movie. “Oblivion” isn’t in the past, but these captivating musicians sure know how to redistribute their sensational sound to a futuristic landscape. Kosinski had similar success using Daft Punk to score “Tron Legacy”, and he hits a similar stride here, proving brass and strings don’t always emotionally capture the end of the world.
Of course, “Oblivion” isn’t without flaws. Over-explanatory narration diminishes the mystery of exploring this world anew in its feeble attempt to catch the audience up to speed quickly. Why don’t filmmakers understand that viewers are quite capable of visually tracking events? Some dialogue also appears stock and, honestly, much of the film is pretty predictable, but in its defense, predictability isn’t always a negative. Just look at every sports movie ever made.
It would be easy to focus on the film’s weaknesses: the story takes a while to find its groove, dialogue veers in and out of cliché territory, and Cruise (nothing in particular, just his mere presence). But it’s just so much fun. I offer it the same forgiveness as “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” (I know there’s a common thread between those films, but I can’t place it): corny plotline, but well acted and great action sequences. At its best, “Oblivion” constructs a magnificent landscape. Sixty years after an alien invasion, Earth is adequately desolated, while the technological advances have a sleek Apple appearance (imagine ships and robotic technology that channels EVE from “WALL-E”).
Now then, let’s talk Cruise. Occasionally he does some abysmal film like “Jack Reacher” that taps into his vanity, but when he puts such narcissistic performances aside, something rather entertaining occurs. In place of a confident leader, completely in control of his surroundings, this Jack (not to be confused with Reacher, because apparently no other names exist in the universe), hasn’t got a clue. This is a role he’s all too familiar with.
Let’s not forget, before he jumped on Oprah’s couch, Cruise portrayed Ethan Hunt and Maverick, and took the lead in several sci-fi and fantasy films. He’s been around the action-adventure block, and this one’s chock full of the same consistency as any of his other films.
“Oblivion” is hardly new ground in a continually changing genre, but it’s the epitome of entertaining. In place of sci-fi’s usually dark scenes to avoid intricate sets, “Oblivion” creates a vibrant world with top-notch graphics, and a plotline and characters to match.
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