Oblivion (which was just released into American theaters yesterday) has received a lot of flack recently for its apparent ripping-off of many of the sci-fi genre’s greatest films. Throughout it’s two-hour runtime, Oblivion certainly shares similarities to such films as Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, and one other recent sci-fi film that would give away some of this film’s surprises if I revealed the title of it. Despite that Oblivion is still a good film. It handles its connections to other films in a professional manner by either doing fun homages or taking different routes to certain plot elements that have been inspired by other films. Add in a strong cast and a matured directing style from its director and Oblivionis one of the best films of this young year.
Oblivion follows Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise), one of the last humans on Earth tasked with securing the safety of the equipment that will one day transport the last remaining resources of a war-riddled Earth to another planet that humanity can live on, as he comes across a spaceship wreckage. After the drones that Jack works with unexpectedly fire upon the survivors of the wreckage, Jack is only able to save one woman (played by Olga Kurylenko), who turns out to be the woman that Jack has been having dreams and/or faded memories of in his mind-wiped brain. With the entrance of this woman into his life, everything that Jack thought he knew is changed forever. The film is directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) and is written by Kosinski, William Monahan (The Departed), Karl Gakdusek (co-showrunner of the recently cancelled Last Resort) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine).
In his debut film Joseph Kosinski created an updated version of the Tron world that was cool if a bit overdone. World-building is clearly his strong suit and he proves that with this film as his version of a dying Earth is visually stunning. However, Tron: Legacy faltered completely by the fact that Kosinski had trouble staging scenes and that he couldn’t direct around a convoluted storyline. With Oblivion, Kosinski’s scene staging has improved (a chase through a canyon is a clear highlight), and he co-wrote a storyline that focused a lot more on atmosphere than it did actual plot. The real shocking thing, though, is that Kosinski is able to make a slow burn style of storytelling work in an age when he is supposed to be crafting a blockbuster with a lot of battles and explosions. In fact Kosinski and his writing team’s only hiccup is with the ending. The film creates such a strong climax that it just needed something to cap it off, but what Kosinski and co. give is an odd reintroduction of a character that we have only seen in one scene as closure to the film.
The film is also helped out by a talented cast. Tom Cruise once again proves why he is the best blockbuster actor in the world. He takes a bare-bones character and gives him a personality with an intense performance that no one else would have bothered giving in this role. Cruise won’t get any end-of-the-year recognition (nor does he deserve it) but it is nice to see him give it his all here. Just as strong are his two main female co-stars, Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough. Kurylenko has been having a fantastic month (she also gave a strong performance in To the Wonder). In this film, she takes a character that isn’t introduced until the middle of the film and quickly makes her seem as realistic as the characters that have been built up from the beginning of the film. Meanwhile, Riseborough brings a coldness to her performance that works perfectly in contrast to Tom Cruise. Yet she can quickly gather her emotions for a powerful scene here or there. Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo don’t get much to do but they bring instant gravitas to the film.
Oblivion isn’t anything new but it introduces a state-of-the-art cinematic world and uses its visuals and twists effectively.