James Reviews Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion [Theatrical Review]


Ahh Joseph Kosinski, we meet again. The last time I reviewed a film of yours, your first mind you, I received death threats, ranging from the usual vitriol and one priceless one that wanted me to die slowly while watching The English Patient. Very specific, I’ll give them that. But I went into this film with the highest of hopes, a feeling that maybe a long awaited sequel was too much for a visionary director. Tom Cruise starring in a high concept sci-fi film, one that was based on a ‘graphic novel’. That’s all I knew about it before sitting down the other night to see what was to come before me. And Kosinski, you broke my heart once more.

First, the basic plot goes something like this. It’s the year 2077 and Earth has gone through a terrible war involving the intergalactic Scavengers (Scavs, as they’re called) and the planet is in ruins due to the fact that they destroyed the Moon and it hasn’t bounced back yet. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is Tech 49, who is on Earth maintaining the machinery, who is partnered up with his communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They are making sure the last of Earth’s resources, especially the water, is being extracted to make sure the human race can survive. They are two weeks away from joining the rest of humanity on the distant moon of Titan and all is looking up until Jack starts having recurring dreams where he is in the past, meeting up with a woman he doesn’t know and they’re on top of the Empire State Building, which makes no sense considering the building itself is in ruins.

While he’s on patrol and at his private hideaway he’s made for himself, sees a ship crashing to the surface. Going against orders from Victoria, who gets them from Sally (Melissa Leo), who is their commander up at the ‘Tet’, the space station right above the Earth. When he gets to the wreckage, he sees people in deep sleep and he comes across the same woman in his dreams. While he’s surveying the area, the drones which are to protect humans and kill Scavs, start blowing up each of the deep sleep pods. Jack stands in front of the one with the woman which protects her because it has a fail safe to not attack Jack. Julia (Olga Kurylenko) is the woman in Jack’s dreams, but what questions will she answer when pressed? Why would the drones attack pods with humans in them? Where does Morgan Freeman come into all this?

Oblivion, Oblivion, I went into you hoping for the absolute best. The thoughts of Kosinski’s last film had left my brain (that’s Tron Legacy, if you weren’t sure) and having Tom Cruise as the star was a positive in my eyes. A big budget and what looked to be high concept science fiction film with a big star is always intriguing (even Will Smith seems to be doing the same thing soon with After Earth). But ultimately Oblivion is a beautiful body that gets our attention, but ultimately is a cookie cutter, carbon copy version of so many better sci-fi films that we’ve all seen before and would rather watch again than sitting through this all over again.

First I’ll detail the positives. The soundtrack by M83 was good (but not remotely Daft Punk good), but at points was a bit too bombastic and were pulling on certain empty emotions the screenplay was failing at showcasing. Tom Cruise, while some might think he was sleepwalking through this role, is actually pretty fun in this, having a lot of stuff to do and to say, Yankees cap and all, but it’s that charisma that makes you stick by him, even when you’re screaming at the screen what films you’ve seen it better in. Olga Kurylenko seems to be channeling a young Catherine Zeta Jones, which is definitely a positive, and she does what she can with the role. I tend to think of her as the silver lining you look forward to seeing in some rather poor cinema (Quantum of Solace). The set design and the work and hours everyone behind the scenes to design this world and each prop and special effect deserve a round of applause and come Oscar time, definitely should be nominated for a plethora awards.

But now comes the bad. Lack of Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Zoe Bell and the rest of the resistance fighters on the planet. I don’t really want to say too much more about them or what answers they have in store for our hero, but I would have enjoyed a bit more than the lackluster Matrix-esque feel they gave them. Cookie cutter screenplay which was adapted from a graphic novel that Kosinski had done, which just shows too much cherry picking from other films. I don’t want to keep listing the films that he ‘borrowed’ from because it might ruin it for most that still want to see it, but I’ve been taking to describing it all as a very poorly prepared sci-fi ratatouille (the food, not the film), because you have layers of very delicious ingredients but the preparation of the whole dish is what ruins the complete meal. Another big waste was Oscar winner Melissa Leo and her role on a small screen throughout the film, with a role we see coming from a mile away. Again, I am trying my hardest to not give away anything, but when you see the ‘twist’ coming the moment certain scenes are presented to you earlier in the film, there’s holes in your script.

Ahh Kosinski, you make me miss Tron Legacy, only slightly, but still, I didn’t think that was possible considering I’m actually a Tom Cruise fan (can’t dislike the guy, even though he sometimes makes it easy to consider it) and with all the hard work that went into Oblivion, I just wish we got something better out of it all. Yes, I ate the whole thing, but afterward felt a bit sick and wanted to rush home to use the original ingredients and eat them one at a time at the comfort of my own abode.