It isn’t, I’ll concede, the most wildly original film. It’s more like a DJ mix than a symphony. Elements of The Matrix, Moon, 2001, the first Star Trek picture, Independence Day, the Death Star run from Star Wars and yes Wall-E all bubble to the surface at one point or another. But for sheer relentless action Oblivion is as good as a modern sci-fi movie gets.
I’ll try to keep this impression reasonably spoiler-free but I will say that Oblivion, to its credit, offers a couple of decent plot twists that send the film off into new and pleasing directions. It also features, and this is about as spoilery as I’m going to get, an alien intelligence that feels genuinely alien.
The setup is all laid out in an opening voiceover. I didn’t much care for the voiceover but at least it gets all the world building done in one shot.
Earth has been ravaged by alien invaders. The war is over. But now there’s an awful lot of work to be done. Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, half of a team tasked with guarding huge machines that are supposed to be converting the Earth’s oceans into fuel for an exodus to Titan.
For much of the running time the film’s a two-hander. Tom’s partner and ground-controller is played by Andrea Riseborough. I hadn’t noticed this in any of her previous work but in Oblivion Andrea has the most mesmerizingly huge pupils I’ve ever seen. Every time she’s in a close-up it’s like falling into a deep, dark pool full of bush-babies. The effect is so arresting it’s positively distracting at times.
Of course. for the post-apocalypse cleanup crew, things don’t go exactly to plan. Cue one of the fun twists mentioned above. Morgan Freeman turns up and gets all Morpheus on The Cruiser’s ass. A whole lot of stuff happens. Nearly all of it very bad for Jack Harper. And nearly all of it very entertaining for us.
The sole aspect of Oblivion that I didn’t like is its heart. It doesn’t have a whole lot. I think partly because it’s so deadly serious. It’s rare in a mass-market action movie nowadays not to have a moment or two of humour. Oblivion has none, and it feels a touch cold as a result.
Writer-director Joseph Kosinski, fresh from his début with the similarly chilly Tron, does better with the glorious vistas of our deserted planet. The composition in IMAX is – and I can hear Brendon growling at me now – ravishing.
The production design, despite what you might think from that poster of Cruise holding a rifle that looks like it’s made of cardboard, is brilliant. The angry combat drones that Cruise repairs are a lovely bit of design. Cruise and Riseborough operate out of an enviable apartment that looks like a giant iMac. And there’s a small amount of erotic water ballet that doesn’t exactly go amiss amidst all the high tech flying robots and the explosions and whatnot.
Oh and the music, by M83, is glorious.
There’s always a bit of science fudging in science fiction films, otherwise most of the stories would collapse, but Oblivion’s science holds up better than most. Except maybe for the suggestion that mankind set off on a trip to the outer Solar System in 2017. I doubt if NASA will be able to afford a flight to Marbella for a few decades yet.
For me, Oblivion’s a winner. In almost exactly the same way that The Matrix was a winner in 1999 before those silly sequels came along and tarnished its memory.
I don’t think Oblivion will sprawl out into trilogy territory. Not because it isn’t good but because it’s a neat, self-contained story.
A stand alone sci-fi movie that isn’t in 3D? Now there’s something that doesn’t come along every day. Ignore the buzz. Give it a go.