14 May 2013

Movie Review: Oblivion by Joseph Kosinski

Title: Oblivion
Director(s): Joseph Kosinski
Genre(s): Action, Romance, Science Fiction
Rating: PG-13
Release Date (USA): April 19, 2013

"60 years ago, Earth was attacked. We won the war, but they destroyed half the planet. Everyone's been evacuated. Nothing human remains. We're here for drone repair. We're the "mop-up crew." -Jack Harper

Earth has suffered a cataclysmic alien attack. In an effort to save the human race and the planet, we fight back. Nuclear weapons are deployed. We fight valiently but it is not enough. The population is decimated. Cities are destroyed. The Earth is in ruin, virtually uninhabitable. The survivors are left with no other choice but to flee the dying planet and make a new home on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

Now imagine that you are one of the only people left on Earth, tasked with protecting and syphoning what few resources remain so that your people can survive. This is Jack Harper's (Tom Cruise) job. He and his partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), are tasked with drone maintanence --- drones that are critical for protecting their harvest operations. These drones are also the last line of defense from hostile "Skav" attacks. The pair's mission commander, Sally (Melissa Leo), provides support from the space colony above. In a few short weeks, the harvesters will have collected enough of the remaining raw material needed to ensure humanity's long-term survival and Jack and Victoria can then return to their people. Only, after a drone repair goes horribly wrong, Jack is left questioning the motives behind his mission and the supposed dangers posed by the Skavs. And he quickly learns, things on the surface are not always what they seem.

You may not have noticed but I've been on a BIG sci-fi kick lately. Suffice it to say, when I saw the trailer for Oblivion coupled with the knowledge that Joseph Kosinski (of Tron: Legacy fame) was attached to direct --- welp, this was my initial reaction:

Yeah. Mega excited to say the least! Alright, so I may not be the biggest Tom Cruise fan or anything but with an all-star cast consisting of Melissa Leo, Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Jamie Lannister from FREAKING Game of Thones!!!), there was no way this movie wasn't going to be a sure-fire winner. To sum up, Oblivion has everything you want/expect out of the genre: killer SFX, action aplenty, pivotal plot-twists and aliens (of course); but it also delivers more than what you initially anticipate. You go into it expecting spaceships and lasers and invasions but you come out having seen so much more.

I will utter a word of caution, however, to those of you who expect to watch an a-typical sci-fi thriller: you will probably walk away from Oblivion feeling slightly underwhelmed because the movie takes its time while unraveling its mysteries. It doesn't just jump straight into the action like many others do these days. But if you love a good storyline, I think you'll be thoroughly pleased with what you see. I have to give Kosinski credit for doing the impossible --- he finds that all-important balance between showing riveting action on screen and telling a captivating story, especially in a genre where excessiveness reigns supreme. This isn't just another alien invasion story. There's some good stuff here. And while even the most adamant of sci-fi fans might preemptively anticipate several of said plot twists, it never detracts from the intended impact.

But as much as I hail this movie for its amazingness, it's not without its flaws either. There was one big thing that forced me to knock my glowing review down from a 5-star to a 4-star rating. Oblivion isn't just a sci-fi film, oh no. It's a goddamned love story! That's right, my friends. When you expect aliens, instead you get a googly-eyed, sap-filled romance. In fact, a good chunk of the film is dedicated to this unanticipated plotline and it made me absolutely crazy! It's kinda similar to what I felt for the movie Titanic. If you take out the love stuff, the movie would've been so much better! Look, I know what you're thinking. It's not that I'm anti-love, I'm just not a fan of love where it doesn't belong ---- like on sinking ships and in goddamn alien invasions! Get with the program people! When it comes to, I dunno, my survival or getting in my kicks one last time, you bet your asses I'm gonna go with the former. Come on, man! Priorities people!

So, yeah. The love stuff. Not a big fan. And that brings me to Olga Kurylenko. Where I felt like Riseborough owned her performance (even the romantic parts), Kurylenko's character only serves to move the love story forward. And while she's not terrible, she's not exactly pivotal either --- more like, just another pretty face. Her character, while it does add some momentum to the spacey stuff, doesn't really inspire. The big surprise for me was Tom Cruise. As I said before, I'm not exactly Tom's biggest fan. For me, he plays much the same character in every movie he's in --- the more-than-meets-the-eye-bad-ass on a mission who ends up questioning authority.

Oh, hey Tom Cruise! Is that you?!
That's essentially the case here, only there's more of a softness behind his performance than I've seen in recent years. And where Cruise can sometimes seem a bit alien in real life, he's shockingly human in Oblivion. He proabaly won't win any awards for this performance but you do have to appreciate those subtle nuances that cause you to sympathize with his character's plight. Another suprise for me was how little screen time Melissa Leo and Morgan Freeman are given. Their roles albeit miniscule, do serve a larger, more all-encompassing purpose though. They each serve as a meaningful addition and do shine with whatever time they're alloted. I won't say much on Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's character other than HUBBA-HUBBA! I mean, seriously. Look at the man!

Officer Schmexy at your service!
I digress. It's easy for me to get off track when I'm staring at the smoldering gaze of Office Schmexy over here. Let me just clean the drool off my keyboard and we'll soldier on...

Another amazingly effective role in the film was actually that of the drones. They are surprisingly animated, each reflecting distinctive and tempramental personalities. They kind of reminded me of WALL-E, in a more deadly, shoot-em-up kind of way. Their almost human nature highlighted the terrifying and hostile situation while also bringing the comedy needed to lighten the mood. And to this I tip my hat to the SFX guru's behind-the-scenes. Much of the drones' character was emphasized by the incredible realness of the barren landscape and the stark modernness of their technology. It also doesn't hurt that I saw the movie in IMAX so much more attention to detail is paid visually as well as audibly. I'd say that I had some fairly high expectations for this film, most of which were met. Oblivion is wrought with surprises mostly good, some bad; but overall, I was pretty blown away this post-apocalyptic journey and the depth to which it went.
Summary Prognosis
Oblivion is a surprisingly contemplative film with genre-defying cinematography. For a flawed film, strong performances, unexpected plot twists and appropriately timed action still make it a must-see. And despite complaints that I might have, I think both fans and non-fans of the genre can find something to enjoy whether it be the sci-finess of the journey or the romance that drives it. Oblivion is a sure bet for all!

Rating: ★★★

Watch It: This movie is currently out in theatres
Discuss It: IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
View the Trailer:


  1. The sets and vistas of this movie look amazing. I tots want to see it (even if I too have reached my Tom Cruise as love interest saturation point). Great review! and PS: Bring on Officer Schmexy ;-)

    1. And they are! It's a truly beautiful movie to watch and it's totally worth the extra money for IMAX. I have to admit, I was kinda surprised by Cruise's relatability in this movie (despite my disdain for the over-abundance of love stuff). I highly recommend it --- if only for Office Schmexy. Swoon!

  2. I actually enjoyed this one, too--it borrows ideas from other films for sure, but it's visually so stunning and the story's pretty engrossing, so I forgave its faults, hah. Agree with you on the romance, it wasn't my favorite thing--and your comment about TC being "shockingly human" made me laugh.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    1. I agree, Wendy! The story is too good (especially in today's world where we rely waaaay too much on Michael Bay-isms) to not give it a fighting chance. HA! I'm glad you enjoyed that little comment --- but still, it's SO true!

  3. Gotta love sci-fi, so how did I miss Oblivion? lol about Officer Schmexy. And I disagree Nikki, love belongs everywhere, on sinking ships and during alien invasions too. That's when love is the best, when lives are at stake!
    And, I secretly heart Tom Cruise, but don't tell anybody because I hear he's really short.

    1. Ha, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on the love bit, Naida. But don't worry, I won't hold it against you! ;)

      And your TC secret is safe with me!

  4. I just saw this movie on Sunday. We all went to see it for Mother's Day. I just want to admit that I am a big Tom Cruise fan. Okay, moving on... I really enjoyed this movie. I felt like it dragged on just a tiny bit at times, but that is just because I was hoping for some more action. Overall, it was a good movie and I enjoyed it. It was very visually pleasing. I didn't mind the love story, but I can see where you are coming from.

    One more thing, about the droids, my husband actually said that he thought of EVE from WALL-E while watching the movie. lol

    1. Yay! I'm glad you enjoyed it (what an awesome Mother's Day!) too. For me, I felt like it dragged on at times but I think it's because the story focused a lot on building up the romantic relationships and tension for the twists at the end.

      That's quite the astute observation and they definitely did! And here's a fun little factoid: The robots in WALL-E (specifically Eve) were modeled off of Apple's glossy, futuristic designs (due in part because Apple owned a stake in Pixar at the time). I can see how the droids here echoed that design as well.


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