It’s VERY difficult to write a spoiler-free review of this movie. If you’re really interested in seeing this film, I suggest that you do NOT see the trailer. Unfortunately, it really spoils a lot of this movie. When I saw the trailer for the first time, I had to stop myself from watching it in its entirety because too much was given away halfway through! I’m the type that really enjoys the movie-going experience without any spoilers, appreciating only very slight hints of what the story’s about. Last night I took my daughter to see the IMAX version of the film and we totally enjoyed it.
In the first 4 or 5 minutes of the film, we hear heavy exposition by the main character of the film, Jack, played by Tom Cruise. We see Jack in New York City meeting a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) at the top of the Empire State Building. He doesn’t remember who she is but he feels that he has known her for a lifetime. He has no memory. His memory has been wiped in order to protect the integrity of his mission. He and his pre-arranged mate, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are tasked with providing maintenance and security over a war-ravaged planet Earth; essentially a mop up crew. She’s the communication officer while he’s the technician who spends his days locating and repairing the deadly aerial combat drones that provide protection over the devastated planet.
Earth was attacked by an alien species simply known as the Scavs after they destroyed Earth’s moon prior to their invasion. After the ensuing earthquakes, storms, tsunamis and other natural disasters caused by the moon’s absence, mankind fights back the only way they know how: nuclear retaliation. When the dust settles, pockets of humanity win the war but are now stranded on a radiation-filled husk of a planet. Now the only thing that stirs above the planet are the drones that occasionally break down due to Scav attacks.
Floating over the oceans are enormous machines that suck up the seawater that will be used for terra-forming Titan, one of the moons of Saturn where Jack and Victoria, as well as the rest of humanity, will ultimately travel to. Floating above planet Earth is the Tet (don’t know if I’m spelling it correctly), an orbiting space station in the form of a mammoth upside-down pyramid. This is where the rest of humanity is residing before making their trip to their new home in Titan.
All this is literally explained in the first five minutes of the film. A lot to take in but necessary to set up the rest of the movie. During his voiceover, I initially feared that this movie was going to be a derivative of another movie. There’s a shot where they’re on the Empire State Building observatory deck, overlooking south towards a completely finished Freedom Tower instead of the World Trade Center. This took me out of the movie as it reminded me of Vanilla Sky (also starring Tom Cruise). I loved that movie (as well as the original it was based on) but I didn’t want this to be a whole dream sequence or something. Rest assured folks, it’s not.
The movie is already criticized for heavily taking concepts and ideas from other films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (several nods to this film), and The Matrix films and rehashing it. The film is directed and co-written by Joseph Kosinski, director of Tron: Legacy, another movie whose visuals I really really liked but left the story a little weak. With Oblivion, I think he did a fantastic job with the material he had. I saw the obvious references to other films but it didn’t really take me out of this film except in the beginning as I mentioned. I think Oblivion was imaginative and original in a lot of other areas.
My mind is blown right now!
Visually this movie is stunning. When Jack enters his bubbleship and takes off for the first time, my 11-year old daughter turns to me and whispers, “my mind is blown right now.” Hilarious! Seeing this movie on an IMAX screen was well worth the price. The large screen made everything totally immersive. The flyovers over canyons, sand dunes, even over the empty shells of skyscrapers and destroyed bridges was breathtaking. There was a sheer beauty and sadness over the devastation of planet Earth onscreen.
If you’re not a Tom Cruise fan, then this movie isn’t for you as he’s in every scene in this movie, sometimes for long stretches of time. This often appears to make the movie drag on but not really (at least not to me). The story is methodically told in its own pace. There are subtle clues dropped here and there and you have to pay attention to the dialogue closely. Kosinski draws you in with the stillness of the empty planet, its derelict structures and the palpable memories of a once vibrant planet.
All that’s left in this planetary vacuum is the unusual relationship of Jack and his partner/lover/mate/wife/coworker Victoria. There’s something off between the two of them. Jack is curious and always asking questions, thinking of things that he really shouldn’t be thinking of. He’s an explorer and risk-taker. Victoria is almost mechanical in nature; cold, distant and methodical in her tasks and in her adherence to orders given by an onscreen-only presence known only as Sally (played by Melissa Leo). The first half of this movie is purely character driven as the mystery of the missing drones and the unseen scav menace threatens our hero Jack.
Until that is, another character is introduced and then the movie takes on an interesting twist. As a matter of fact, there are three HUGE twists in this movie. The first one is a little obvious but the other two are zingers! I won’t spoil it for you but suffice to say that you’ll enjoy this movie – provided you don’t watch those blasted trailers.
If you’ve seen the trailer or poster, you also know that Morgan Freeman is in the movie, lending further gravitas to the film (adding Mr. Morgan Freeman to any movie makes it a better film in my opinion). I won’t tell you what his role is but it’s pivotal to the story. The only nagging part about his character is his almost omniscient knowledge of certain things that took place before. Maybe I missed something but I felt that he knew just a little too much.
I really liked this movie and I appreciated the nods Kosinski made to the other sci-fi films preceding this one. I felt that the story was told in an original way despite the similar sci-fi tropes. Really, who cares? I judge this movie on its own merits. It was entertaining, thought-provoking and introspective. Not too many hardcore sci-fi films are hitting the theaters these days and I for one, appreciate Oblivion for the film that it is.
If you want a deeper analysis of the film, get “McCoyed” here. He has an excellent review of the film with spoilers so be warned!