Oblivion is predictable and soul-less
In Oblivion, Tom Cruise plays drone mechanic Jack Harper, who is part of a two-member “mop-up crew” of humans, salvaging whatever’s left of post-apocalyptic Earth, after an alien invasion 60 years ago destroyed the planet. The rest of humanity has moved to Titan, Saturn’s moon, and Harper and his colleague (with benefits), Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who are based on a fancy space-station somewhere above Earth, are sweeping the planet one last time before they shift to Titan too.
All’s going well – the bad guys are already dead, humanity is already in the ‘happily ever after’ phase on Titan, and Jack and Victoria are having sex in a pool in the middle of space, when, of course, there’s a kahani mein twist, and former Marine commander Jack has to step up and save the day by squashing the evil aliens.
The greatest thing about this concept is that it’s a far cry from any of the roles Cruise has played in the past. For example, in Jack Reacher (2012), Cruise played a former military officer, who saves the day by squashing an evil Russian Gang. In Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011), Cruise played a former spy, who saves the day by squashing evil Russians. In Knight and Day (2010), Cruise plays a former Army seargent, who saves the day by squashing evil guys in general. Oh wait.
So yes, at age 50 and in film number 39, Cruise, yet again plays the role of the wronged hero, who then, single-handedly steps up in dire times, because obviously, humanity ain’t saving itself, is it? The funniest thing about this hypothesis is that it also sounds a lot like what ‘Movie Star’ Cruise believes he does in real life/on Earth in general – stepping up to save humanity!
But while, in most of the other movies that Cruise stars in, he is pitted against a formidable foe, Oblivion has a bit of an unremarkable aftertaste, particularly because of the lack of a spectacular villain. The villain in Oblivion is faceless, nameless, and just not frightening enough to be pitted against ‘Movie Star’ Cruise in a multi-million dollar movie, and once you realize that, it’s all a waste of your popcorn after that.
Of course, it’s too simplistic to narrow down the problems with a film like Oblivion to a single reason. Oblivion had all the potentials of being a sci-fi classic: The visuals, although reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, are stunning, the cinematography (by Oscar-winner Claudio Miranda of Life of Pi fame) is breath-taking, the cast (Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Andrea Riseborough and Nikolaj ‘Kingslayer’ Coster-Waldau) with the exception of Olga Kurylenko, is quite impressive; the first half, right up till the “plot twist”, is intriguing and atmospheric, and technically, the film is far superior than what’s generally churned out, even in the sci-fi genre.
In spite of so many favourable factors, Oblivion ultimately fails because the story is so clichéd and predictable, that there is literally no plot twist in the movie that you haven’t seen before in a sci-fi flick – about 30 times. While the first half does manage to sustain interest levels because of the deliberate ‘intelligent movie’ pacing – it’s all downhill once it is ‘revealed’ that not all is what it seems to be. The whole Olga Kurylenko angle is contrived, the brief battle sequences are uninteresting, and the Morgan Freeman-led rebels are so badly sketched that the film even makes ‘Kingslayer’ Coster-Waldau (of Game of Thrones fame) look inept.
Then there is the problem of Oblivion not knowing what it really wants to be. Does it want to be an smart movie that will make you reflect once it’s over (Prometheus), or does it want to be a popcorn action movie that will give you instant gratification (Independence Day or I Am Legend) or a movie that’s a bit of both (District 9)? Because Oblivion, funnily, is in a strange, altogether new space – it’s a bit of neither. The film is so derivative that in an attempt to pay homage to the great sci-fi films of our times, writer-director Joseph Kosinski (of Tron: Legacy fame) manages to lose the movie’s own soul.
And while a lot of the blame needs to rest squarely on Kosinski’s shoulders, it’s obvious that even if you wanted to, you couldn’t make a thinking movie with a movie-star like Cruise at its helm, especially at this budget. So what you get instead is a movie that shows sparks of potential every now and then, but ends up digging itself a huge hole it just doesn’t know how to get out of. Go watch the movie if you are a Tom Cruise fan, else rent Duncan Jones’ Moon and see one of the more brilliant movies *spoiler* made on a similar subject.
Note: This review first appeared on Firstpost.com on January 11, 2013
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