Oblivion (2013)

Well, Mr. Scientology himself, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV strikes again, once more returning to the ‘hard’ sci-fi genre line-up he began with Minority Report (2002). This time around, he plays a ‘tech’ named Jack Harper, essentially a roving sentry/repairman who’s primary responsibility is to watch out for the fleet of sphere-like automated drones that patrol the wasteland that was once the surface of the Earth. Word has it that 60 or so years earlier, we were attacked by an alien species, a species commonly referred to as ‘Skavs’. In the ensuing battle, the ‘Skavs’ shattered our moon just before we fried their asses with the trusty ole nukes (Yay, nukes!). However, the destruction of the moon had some serious side-effects here on Earth and pretty much everything was laid to waste by the multitude of earthquakes, floods and storms that Nature unleashed as a result. Now, a handful of maintenance teams live in gleaming towers above the ravaged surface, ready to leap into action if any patrol drones run into mechanical problems…or the remaining ‘Skav’ troops that are rumored to roam the ruins of our planet. Things kick into gear when Jack, from the confines of his secret cabin ‘getaway’, witnesses the crash of a stricken space vessel. What he sees and experiences at the crash site calls everything into question, particularly when the responding drones start using the comatose survivors for target practice with their trusty laser cannons. From there, The Terrible Truths begin to unravel. Right off the bat, I have to admit that the visuals, particularly the sci-fi elements, look fantastic. The director of Tron: Legacy (2010), Joseph Kasinski, has done a great job at creating an epic-feeling ‘universe’, with a very cool juxtaposition between the spartan, clinical cloud-level world that Jack and his tower controller/lover Victoria inhabit, and the utterly ruined remains of the world that you and I currently know. The scenes taking place in the ‘landing pad/medical bay/workshop/ritzy living quarters’ tower are awesome, with tons of ‘beauty shots’ of surrounding sun-lit clouds via tall banks of wrap-around windows.There is a beautiful moon-lit sequence involving a romantic night-time swim in a glass-bottom pool attached to the exterior of The Tower, several hundred feet above the rocky surface. The image of the crumbled remains of the moon hanging in the sky is awe-inspiring…and is now on my list of ‘Things I’d Love to See in Real Life…But Pray That I Don’t’. Joining the exploded moon in orbit is a huge, geometrically-shaped space station that supposedly controls all human/drone activities on the surface. It’s a sweet visual, this eerie, distance-dimmed shape, lit in the sunlight as it hangs in the sky above. Much like the recent Prometheus (2012), the strength of this film lies in the strong visual aesthetic. Luckily, the characters here aren’t quite as bone-headed as the ones in Ridley Scotts strangely triumphant sci-fi failure. Tom Cruise does That Thing he does where, against all your natural instincts regarding just how fucking strange the man is in Real Life, he makes you believe the sincerity he brings to his roles. He has faith in the projects that he picks and you can see it there in his performance. His Jack Harper is another of these. Cruise does a commendable job conveying the wonder, the doubt, the anguish, the confusion and the sentimentality that Jack experiences as events outside his control begin to take their toll on him. As Victoria, his ‘by-the-book’ British ‘companion’, Andrea Riseborough brings a certain gravity to the character as Jacks questionable actions put her plans for retirement to Titan in jeopardy; forcing her to make some tough choices. As The Other Woman, the gorgeous Olga Kurylenko (not looking so gorgeous here) plays the lone survivor of the crashed ship, a woman who knows more about Jack than she rightfully should. Many critics have come down on Kurylenko for paling in comparison to pretty much EVERYONE else in the flick, but I didn’t think she was ALL terrible. She turns up, services the plot and does pretty much what her character should. Morgan Freeman pops up in a rather silly role as Beech, the cigar-puffing, sunglasses-in-the-dark wearing leader of a ragtag group of humans who have answers to questions that Jack didn’t even know he was supposed to be asking. I found his character almost entirely disposable and his wardrobe just didn’t work for me. Maybe I have a natural aversion to useless capes, thanks to watching The Incredibles (2004) one too many times. (“ No capes!”) Nikolaj Causter-Waldau (Game of Thrones) and Zoe Bell (Death Proof) slide in as members of Freemans guerrilla army and are just…kinda…there. On another ‘acting’ level, I quite liked the behaviors of the drones. The filmmakers did a good job in giving these things sounds and movements that manage to convey a cold and efficient sense of menace. The four heavy-duty laser cannons also helped this impression along nicely. Where Oblivion is left ‘wanting’ would be in the ‘Logic’ and ‘Pacing’ departments. The first half of the film truly is great sci-fi but, as my buddy said, once the film begins to give answers to the intrigue, it stumbles. I found myself asking questions about why certain things were happening, because they weren’t making a lot of sense…especially after the credits rolled, upon reflection. Not the end of the world, especially since there was SO much ‘pretty’ on display to distract you if your brain started hurting. There is also a portion that felt (to me) to be too choppy and episodic early in the 3rd Act, and I found it somewhat distracting. Oblivion could have used about 10 minutes left on the cutting room floor. I don’t know what should’ve been cut, and it could very well just be the choppy portion that made me start wondering how much was left, but the run-time felt a little more padded than it probably needed to be. But if you’re looking for something that will, at least, entertain you with some excellent science fiction imagery and ideas, and some slick actions scenes, this flick’ll do the trick. Oblivion is good fun…but not perfect…or terribly original. Then again, what flick is?

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