This is one of those movies that creates very mixed feelings in me. While at times this movie is absolutely brilliant, it falls victim to its own lofty ambitions, and ends up becoming an interesting yet somewhat disappointing sci-fi flick that could’ve been something truly great.
Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, a maintenance man on what remains of Earth after a war that resulted in nuclear fallout for half of the planet. His job, along with his partner and lover Victoria, is to repair the various drones that protect the dozens of water vacuums that, supposedly, convert Earth’s oceans into nourishment for human’s new home of Titan, a moon orbiting Jupiter.
Right off the bat, the premise is immensely intriguing. It’s nice seeing a post-apocalypse Earth that isn’t brown and muggy, but instead, bright and just broken. Indeed, Earth is a broken place. Half of the planet fell victim to nuclear fallout, and other half is so desolate, so destroyed, that it’s basically uninhabitable.
I loved, and I do mean loved, the visuals in play here. Joseph Kosinski, who did Tron: Legacy, which I loved, has a brilliant grasp of visual effects, and his portrayal of a desolate, abandoned Earth is one of the best I’ve ever seen. From seeing pieces of iconic buildings laying in deserts, or, for example, seeing the Pentagon as a nuclear crater, is both chilling and oddly mystifying.
The tone and atmosphere of Oblivion is to-notch, and worth the price of admission alone. One of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s this that kept me interested in the movie, even when the story lost me.
That brings me to the backbone of any movie; the story. And Oblivion’s is somewhat of a mixed bag. Strangely enough, I thought the first half of the movie was absolutely ingenious. The characters were brilliantly portrayed, and while Tom Cruise was his likeable self, it was his co-star Andrea Riseborough that stole the show in my opinion.
Her character, Victoria, has this electric presence on screen, and her chemistry with Cruise is surprisingly great, and outside of an awkward pool scene, she dominates every scene she’s in. So much in fact, that when more characters are introduced, they all falter when compared to Riseborough and Cruise.
As much as I loved the first half of the movie however, the second half is where it started to lose me. Rather than stick with its original tone and cast, it introduces numerous other characters, and throws plot twist after plot twist after you that you find yourself struggling just to keep up on what’s happening.
This wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing if the plot twists were interesting, but sadly, their much more derivative and uncalled-for than the subtly suspenseful first half. And since the rest of the cast is so underdeveloped, I found myself wishing they had kept the ideas from the first half more prominent as the movie went on.
While Morgan Freeman is always a great addition to any cast, his character is so sadly underused and one-dimensional that his only real purpose is to nonchalantly inform the viewer of whatever crazy revelation that’s being thrown at them.
Even Olga Kurylenko, whose character Julia is incredibly important, comes across as one-dimensional. While she is perfectly capable of delivering her lines with the needed emphasis, she’s not given a whole bunch of uniqueness, which is a shame because she pretty much replaces Riseborough in the second half of the movie, meaning I found myself wishing Victoria would just come back and replace Julia entirely.
And that’s my biggest problem with this movie; the second half just can’t compare to the first half. While the story is definitely derivative of other popular science fiction, it was done in such a way that it felt clever. However, as the film nears its climax, it resorts to cliche after cliche, and instead of sticking with the subtle menace of the an unseen antagonist, the movie decides to go towards a more action-oriented route that just felt out of place.
That’s not to say the movie’s bad, but rather, I felt that the first half, and its rather ingenious atmosphere and characterization, was vastly superior when compared to the rest of the movie, and its ending in particular. Which in fact, felt rushed and just plain odd. It’s as if it tried to tie up all the loose ends, and explain every plot thread in just a few scenes, but by the time the credits were rolling, I still had more questions than answers.
I have such mixed feelings about this movie. The visuals were an absolute wonder to behold, and were easily worth the price of admission, and the first half was a mixture of ominous suspense and fantastic characterization that I absolutely adored. However, it seems the movie buckled under its own lofty ambitions in the second half, resulting in a good movie that feels somewhat like a missed opportunity.
There’s a lot to love here if you set your expectations appropriately, and it’s a movie that I’m sure would get better with repeated viewings. I just don’t feel a big need to re-watch it. Overall though, Oblivion is a fun, yet somewhat frustrating, sci-fi movie that does some things wonderfully, and some other things not so much.