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Oblivion (2013)

April 22, 2013

MY CALL:  This film is visually a thing of ecstasy, structurally boring due to gratuitously wasted actors, and tells an interesting original story with entirely unoriginal concepts.

Set in the year 2077, Oblivion focuses on Jack Harper (Tom Cruise; Jack Reacher, Rock of Ages).  Jack is something of a soldier slash technician who patrols zone 49 and performs maintenance on hunter-killer drones which are tasked with eliminating “scavengers,” the leftovers of an alien force that invaded Earth 60-some years ago.  While the scavs lost the war, Earth was rendered uninhabitable.–K9DH0aqoJc/UL9fnLtYygI/AAAAAAAAUkw/15wUfhFsGg8/s1600/oblivion-01.jpg

Jack and his handler, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough; Welcome to Punch) are the only two in their zone whereas Earth’s population has been relocated to Saturn’s moon Titan. Jack and Victoria underwent memory wipes to objectively carry out their long term mission.  However, Jack is haunted by dreams, perhaps memories, of a woman at the top of the Empire State Building–which is weird since he wasn’t alive back when that could have happened. When a ship crash lands with human survivors, including this woman (Olga Kurylenko; Seven Psychopaths, Centurion) from his visions, he begins to seriously question his mission and, well, everything.

This film is beautiful! While completely different from Tron: Legacy, director Joseph Kosinski has again succeeded at capturing our eyes with commanding cinematography and powerful future-scapes. The story teeters at the edges of originality and patchwork familiarity. I very much liked it.  But I was constantly reminded of other great movies because of Jack’s integral role in the plot.  Conceptually sampled movies include Moon, I Am Legend, The Matrix and Independence Day–and the sampling is far from subtle.  However “unoriginal” one could argue this makes the film, all sampled elements were remade and stitched together quite pleasingly well.

The effects were largely represented by Jack’s shuttle and the drones, and they were awesome! A-plus CGI that didn’t at all feel like watching CGI.  Action sequences involving them were intense and felt a lot more “real” than sequences of the likes of A Good Day to Die Hard.  While this takes place in the future, I didn’t feel like the technology was hard to swallow.  It was all credible, which allowed me to invest my interest in Jack and the mystery that he was trying to uncover.

So far this may sound pretty good, but there are a few “buts.”

While Jack and Victoria create an effective dynamic, Morgan Freeman (Olympus Has Fallen, The Dark Knight Rises) is shockingly uninteresting as a Morpheus-like “resistance” leader. He and his right hand man, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Mama, Headhunters, Game of Thrones), could have been completely eliminated from the plot.  Worse yet, both of these actors where given stagnant roles.  Their punctuated inclusion in the movie does little more than simply remind us that “yes, they’re in this movie, too.”  What a waste of talent…and a shame!  The “other woman,” the “woman of his dreams,” serves as little more than a plot device.  It’s a good one. But sadly, her inclusion as a character doesn’t really interplay well with Jack’s relationship with Victoria or “the resistance,”  which leads to a disastrously anticlimactic ending that mixes The Matrix and Independence Day but packs none of the punch, fun or smiles.

The ending was as lame as when Ryan Reynolds beat the bad guy using the sun in The Green Lantern.  However, Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough perform fantastically.  It’s their relationship and their cold, remote, Brave New World-esque supervisor (Melissa Leo; The Fighter, Conviction) that draw us into this story, the mystery, and the gorgeous medium on which it’s presented.

This film is visually a thing of ecstasy, structurally boring due to gratuitously wasted actors, and tells an interesting original story with entirely unoriginal concepts.  Overall, forgiving some major flaws, I enjoyed it.  It’s just that, unlike most successful movies, the greatest satisfaction comes from our introduction to the world of Oblivion and Tom Cruise rather than an epic resolution.

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