Saturday, April 13, 2013

Movie Review: Oblivion

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Genre: Sci-fi
Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

ALERT: This review contains spoilers.

Tom Cruise’s acting career now spans more than three decades. At age 50, he has perfected what I call the “renegade hero” genre. In movie after movie, from the Mission Impossible franchise to Minority Report and Jack Reacher, he portrays a special kind of American action hero – not that the kind that shoots his way through exploding buildings like Bruce Willis and Will Smith – but a more brainy, reflective and troubled man of action who uses both brains and brawn to fight a system that comes crashing down on him. How many times have we seen IMF agent Ethan Hunt go from being the hunter to the hunted and turn on the very organization he serves to prove his innocence? Cruise plays that role so successfully that at his advancing age he can still carry an action flick better than most young Hollywood heartthrobs. Although he doesn't always get the credit he deserves, his enduring career casts a long shadow on other spy-fi roles like Jason Bourne and even the modern James Bond.

Oblivion by Joseph Kosinski

In Oblivion, Cruise does it again. He plays drone mechanic Jack Harper in the post-apocalyptic world. The year is 2077, six decades after mankind pushed back an alien attack by nuking their own planet and emigrated to a Saturn moon. Harper is among a handful of Earthlings who stay behind to repair unmanned drones used to rid the wasteland of any remaining alien life forms. But the mechanic is haunted by recurring dreams and flashbacks, until a chance encounter with Julia (played by Olga Kurylenko) makes him realize that his friends and foes are not who they appear to be. And so there we have it: another renegade hero ready to take on the establishment. In the final struggle, Harper decimates his true enemies and gets the girl.

Oblivion is directed by 39-year-old Joseph Kosinski whose only credit is Walt Disney’s TRON: Legacy. Like TRON, Oblivion is heavy on visual effects but light on emotion and substance. The movie amounts to two hours of sensory assault that puts the audience to sleep despite ear-splitting sound effects and dizzying chase scenes. I haven't yawned that much in an action movie since Transformers 3

Oblivion is also derivative. Harper’s awakening from a make-believe world and his earthshaking discovery that he has all along been fighting for the wrong side are taken straight from The Matrix and Total Recall. Kosinski's second film is a rehash of spy-fi greats with a little WALL-E, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow thrown in. 

The resemblance to The Matrix is uncanny. Tom Cruise has the same confused look as Keanu Reeves. Morgan Freeman talks like Laurence Fishburne. And Olga Kurylenko is a less edgy Carrie-Anne Moss. Even the drones behave like the squid-like sentinels. The only thing missing is Hugo Weaving’s bullet-dodging, shape-shifting Agent Smith.

Cruise and his co-star Olga Kurylenko

Another problem with Oblivion is the casting. Ukrainian-French model-turned-actress Olga Kurylenko looks like a young Catherine Zeta Jones and acts like a Bond Girl. Wait a minute, she was a Bond Girl! Kurylenko plays a Bolivian femme fatale in the universally panned Quantum of Solace. It’s a miracle that the girl with an unpronouncable name and zero acting talent is able to bounce back and star in another Hollywood blockbuster. English actress Andrea Riseborough holds her own as Harper’s steely, make-believe wife Victoria. But her character (and her British accent) reminds me too much of Kate Beckinsale in the awful remake of Total Recall. Talk about haunting flashbacks.

Lacking both creativity and an emotional punch, Oblivion adds nothing to the sci-fi canon. The many visually spectacular sets – including a stunning glass-and-steel apartment where the hero and his wife reside (and swim in the nude) – are interesting but fail to revive a labored, lifeless story. As such, the movie’s title is well chosen: it will be forgotten in a few months and disappear into cinematic oblivion.

It does have some stunning sets


  1. Thank I know to save my time and money for something else I really like sci-fi and was tempted to go in spite of Tom Cruise.


  2. Thank you Jason. You reinforce my view on NOT to waste money on this one. Cheers.


  3. I swallow the hard pill so you don't have to... :-)


  4. Just because you had free tickets ... lol!


  5. Keep an eye out for my upcoming movie reviews: The Host and Iron Man 3! :-)


  6. I hate sci-fi, especially the ones starred by Tom Cruise.


  7. Hm @Emily, Minority Report was a good movie and thought provoking in a good way as well, so I think as always it depends on the script director and actor/actress.

    But aside from that, yes I think this movie should go the way of oblivion, heck Tom Cruise admitted as much (if I recall correctly) while making Xiao Long Bao in Taipei's Din Tai Fung.


  8. I actually like this movie and I find the pace is quite balanced. The lack of intense action gave more room to observe Tom Cruise playing out this character and unfolding the story in a nice way. I don't believe good sci-fi has to get very sophisticated - Oblivion isn't nearly as complicated as Matrix and it doesn't have a huge cast, but I like the way they depart the from the traditional "alien" stereotype and portray it as some kind of cosmo-parasite - something with plenty of intelligence but without a physical life form. I find this concept of an alien and the human clones are actually closer to the Japanese anime Evangelion's worldview. I would give a 4/5 stars to this movie.


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