Oblivion: Sci-Fi Nerd Heartbreaker
I'm sorry sci-fi nerds - and I use the term lovingly - this is another fascinating fictional world marred by its big-budget aim on audiences other than yourselves. Based on the graphic novel of the same name and creator, Oblivion is a plausibly constructed sci-fi world, even if it lacks the intrigue it was aiming for. Jack Harper (Cruise) and his companion, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), have been commissioned by the human race to defend energy generators from Scavengers: an alien race that have lost the war for Earth, but remain in covert pockets across the globe. Supposedly, Earth was rendered inhospitable for humans and the surviving population has taken refuge on a monumental space station. There are issues with the premise and the world Joseph Kosinski has crafted here. The film's dreary progression fuels your skepticism, instead of placating it. The final reveal does settle most logical qualms and leaves a comfortable amount of ambiguity, even if you've completely checked out halfway through.
In it's strain to bend your mind, the film goes on to twist itself into oblivion, blending up common sci-fi elements and not-so-subtly referencing the classics. But it does so far too slowly, drawing attention to inconsistencies and implausibilities and attempting to shift your focus to character development. Unfortunately, even weaker still are the human elements in the film; characters who fit neatly into their linear roles and actors who play them with mind-numbing simplicity. As always, Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. There isn't a role in which he's 'playing' quiet or brooding that doesn't make you wish he would retire. Oblivion is no exception. Jack Harper is simply an American guy and that's about all you can bring yourself to care about. Even Morgan Freeman playing Morpheus isn't enough to make you sympathise with the human race. The narrative is actually engaging and it's a crying shame the structure of the film simply leaves nothing to grasp to.
Technically, Oblivion is a step up from the visual brilliance of Tron: Legacy. Kosinski's reliance on CGI is saved by its complete cohesion with the actors and thankfully, you won't see any awkward renderings of Jeff Bridges wandering through the frame. The film is visually ambitious, certainly, but it doesn't go all Matrix: Reloaded and try too much. The post-apocalyptic landscape is actually beautifully shot and the film offers wonderful sweeping shots of mangled landmarks against foreboding mountain backdrops, drawing just enough attention to itself to dilute the film's sedative side-effects.
Oblivion refuses to strap on its spectacles and delve into the finer details of its own world. Whether due to a heavy studio presence or simply due to Kosinki's own insecurities, this is a film fascinating enough to make you wish it was far more absolute. The first Matrix is an archetypal sci-fi and is everything Oblivion should be. The Matrix was ballsy enough to lecture you for an hour about its rules and only then reward you with snippets of ingenius action. It never got bogged down in drip-feeding intrigue or caught in the attempt to be anything else. Oblivion, while containing merit, is disappointing.