Joseph Kosinski, who divided fans with his grandiose “Tron Legacy”, returns with more large-scale science fiction in “Oblivion”, based on a comic book he apparently wrote back in 2005 but never published. Headlined by the immortal Tom Cruise, the film is set in the future where the earth has been attacked by aliens (referred to as Skavs or scavengers) in the late 21st century who destroyed the moon and caused widespread catastrophic damage before being defeated by planet-ruining nuclear strikes.
With the population of earth now having headed off for a new home on Titan, only the Cruiser remains with his girlfriend Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), protecting giant machines converting the planet’s water into energy for the new world from the vestiges of the skav army. One day a space craft crashes in an empty sector and against orders he decides to investigate, coming across a strange woman from his dreams who claims to be his wife (Olga Kurylenko) and gradually opening his eyes to the truth of what really happened to earth.
To say anything further would be unfair, as “Oblivion” is to an extent a film which relies upon its twists – not that it matters, since the trailer has by now given at least one of them away (avoid seeing it if at all possible). However, to be honest, this perhaps doesn’t matter too much, as the plot itself is likely to be instantly familiar to most sci-fi fans, having borrowed most of its themes and beats from a variety of other recent and classic outings. Whilst the story does generally hold the interest and works well enough as a cut and paste job, Kosinski certainly doesn’t seem to have put much effort into construing the kind of ambitious narrative which might have been hoped for, and as a result it’s hard not to feel a little underwhelmed once all the cards are on the table, any early sense of mystery having long departed by the halfway mark.
The characters are similarly lightweight, Tom Cruise failing to convince that he’s anything other than himself, and while Riseborough and Kurylenko both manage a few moments of emotion here and there, they really don’t have much to work with. Without saying much about his role, Morgan Freeman has a pretty thankless job, as does Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who basically gets to stand around in the background sulking and muttering.
Despite all of this, there’s still a great deal to enjoy here, and “Oblivion” for many viewers will add up to far more than the sum of its parts. This is down to the fact that what he lacks as a writer, Kosinski makes up for as a visual visionary, and this really is a truly beautiful and epic film. Shot on gloriously bleak Icelandic landscapes, the CGI and vaguely retro looking tech are fitted in subtly rather than dominating, and in terms of looks and believability the film is worlds apart from other green-screen efforts. The lavish production values are right there on screen, and the film is gorgeous throughout, especially in IMAX, and for this reason it’s arguably at its best during the peaceful first act, which basically just follows Cruise at a leisurely pace as he explores the supposedly decimated, but kind of tranquil looking planet in scenes which recall “Wall-E”. Kosinski also does a solid job with the action scenes, with some great aerial set pieces and ambitiously staged battles, and this both helps to keep things moving at a decent pace and to gloss over the film’s failings in other areas.
“Oblivion” as a result is likely to be another fairly divisive effort from Kosinski, that some viewers will really take to while others yawn. Though frustrating due to its lazy writing and lack of narrative originality or depth, there’s no denying the artistry at work here or the splendour of its visuals, and in some ways this in itself is enough to set it apart from many of its peers.
“Oblivion” opened in UK theaters April 10th.
Joseph Kosinski (director) / Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt (screenplay), Joseph Kosinski, Arvid Nelson (comic book)
CAST: Tom Cruise … Jack
Morgan Freeman … Beech
Olga Kurylenko … Julia
Andrea Riseborough … Victoria
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau … Sykes
Melissa Leo … Sally
Zoe Bell … Kara