Saturday 3 April 2021

Movie Review: Oblivion (2013)

A post-apocalyptic science fiction drama, Oblivion is visually gorgeous but compromised by substantive logic gaps.

In 2077, the moon has been destroyed and Earth is uninhabitable after a war with invading alien scavengers ("scavs"). The humans won the war but relocated to Saturn's Titan moon, leaving the gigantic Tet spaceship to orbit Earth. 

Maintenance technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his communications partner Vika (Andrea Riseborough) are among the few humans on Earth. Taking instructions from their commander Sally (Melissa Leo) on Tet, they are completing a five year stint maintaining military drones that hunt remaining scavs and protect massive generators converting the ocean's waters to energy.

Jack and Vika are supposed to have had their memories wiped before their maintenance mission, but Jack suffers from persistent flashbacks featuring a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko). He has also discovered a pasture where nature is recovering, and he yearns to stay on Earth. After he locates a signal broadcasting into space, a human spaceship crash lands. The behaviour of the drones at the crash site and the story of the sole survivor force Jack to question everything he knows.

A combination of dystopian nightmare and hopeful resiliency-of-humanity epic, Oblivion offers plenty to admire. Written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, the cinematography is a feast for the eyes. With seamless CGI effects, the destroyed and abandoned Earth is a desolate, engrossing place, haunted by the remnants of an exploded moon. The command centre in the sky is sleek, and the spacecrafts and drones are clever, agile machines. 

Starting with a well-constructed premise but always hinting at the potential for curves, the plot basics are intriguing. Kosinski reveals the hidden layers of his story in increments, maintaining a good level of curiosity with a succession of twists. Unfortunately, many of the highlights are also familiar from other movies, and under any cursory level of examination the plot details disintegrate.

Also less successful are a couple of unnecessary action scenes thrown in as a check-box exercise. These are notably out of place and poorly executed. The drones invade a hideout, and then pursue a craft in canyon-like terrain, and both sequences are derivative, choppy, and edited with a hatchet.

The cast is small and led by a typically magnetic Tom Cruise performance. Jack Harper benefits from a complex backstory, and Cruise savours it with inquisitive conviction. Andrea Riseborough teases out the tension within a conflicted character, but Melissa Leo has less to. Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau enter the narrative about halfway through in smallish but pivotal roles.

Oblivion works best as a tableau of artistry, a vision to be admired from a distance, the details best left unexamined.

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