Movie Review: 'Oblivion' (2013)

"Oblivion" is the latest offering from Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy). I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film, since its inception. So there was quite a bit of personal hype behind this film, to be honest. Upon, Kosinski being chosen to helm the project, there was a little mellowing of those expectations.

After trying to make it through 25 minutes of “Tron: Legacy”, minutes that left me haunted by neon lights and a nightmare of what it would be like to be sucked into your smart phone, hopes for a better outing were softened to say the least.

“Oblivion” is the opposite. It is a solid sci-fi and adventure film. I’m not going to lie. There is no new territory covered in this movie. If you’ve seen "Moon" (one of the best movies I have ever seen, period), “The Eighth Day”, “Total Recall” and “Eagle Eye”, you’ve come close to seeing this movie.

“Oblivion” is mainly a story of one man’s humanity juxtaposed to a green-screen world that is no more tangible than the world that has been left behind after a dystopian apocalypse. The tricky thing with this movie is the elements that you go in expecting to work, don’t and the things that you don’t expect anything from, perform above expectations.

The grey and bleached quality of the cinematography reminds us that we are in a post-apocalyptic world, in case you forget. The future technology that has propelled the sci-fi genre and inspired real-life technological advances are present in “Oblivion”.

The problem is that the world “Oblivion” presents; a world where we can soar through space in hover-copters and have laser weapons, we also can’t get a clear signal with cameras and the picture isn’t in color, to name just a few of the issues.

So technology wise, we took a million steps forward and took quite a few essential steps back. The CGI has its moments. There are scenes where there are some rough patches. The story moves at a steady pace, the continuous flashbacks of the same moments from Cruise’s pre-invasion life borders on overdone though.

The other problem is the casting of a key role. Olga Kurylenko, who I have enjoyed in previous roles, is totally miscast in her part as Cruise’s love interest. All she is does is look dazed and confused throughout the course of the movie. Kurylenko is not an actress who should just be standing around being a damsel in distress.

She should be kicking ass; part of the reason I was so excited to hear she was cast in this. Her breakthrough role in 2007’s “Hitman” proved she had what it took to be a strong woman. Not to mention, she was a Bond girl and the only good thing about the dreadful “Casino Royale”.

She is an actress that is believable being a bad-ass and she has proven to be more than competent in action endeavors, a problem that faces most actresses cast in action roles (i.e. Angelina Jolie). It is not realistic to watch an actress of Jolie’s build perform those roles; it is so ridiculous that it even spawned the term “waif-fu” to address its incredulity.

In this Kurylenko and Cruise never catch any sparks chemistry wise and she looks sad the entire time that is not an exaggeration either. All of the fire that had filled the screen in her previous work is seemingly stripped away. The mere casting of her in the role put expectations on it to be more action oriented so to say it was disappointing to not even see her be able to fend off, one single person, would be an understatement.

The role should’ve been retooled to accompany Kurylenko's strengths. She deserved better. Instead, she is forced to handle a character who wouldn’t be able to find her way out of a cardboard box, let alone survive earth’s demise.

As for Cruise’s other love interest, played by Andrea Riseborough ("Brighton Rock"), there is more promising news. Riseborough gives a really solid performance, in a role she manages to give some much needed dimension.

Riseborough could have gone the clinical, scientific route and instead she gives the role a lot of passion and heart, a welcomed change from the regular female role in sci-fi. Morgan Freeman is in the movie for practically 10 minutes (if that) and he does his normal thing, being cool. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ("Game of Thrones") peaks in for a bit to be a convincing ass-kicker.

Now we’ve saved the best for last; Mr. Cruise. Cruise has been and always will be one of the biggest American movie stars and this movie proves why. He is fun to watch.

He is the star of the movie. He is in every scene and if you want a chance to enjoy a classic American movie star, this is the film for you. If you compare Cruise's work now, to the current crop of “rising stars," you will be reminded that most have about a tenth of the star power Cruise possesses. For those who want to forget how much talent you used to need to be a star, “Oblivion” or any other Cruise movie is a painful reminder of how far the bar has fallen. 

Final Verdict: 7.5/10 – "Oblivion" doesn’t recreate the wheel; nor does it pretend too. However, too many similarities to previous works prevent the movie from standing out and it finds itself complacent in the genre. Without a memorable villain there is no one for us to really root against.

A hero is only as good as its villain and that is where a lot of the loose threads of the screenplay become visible. The saving grace comes from Cruise and Riseborough’s performances. If another actor were cast in the leading role this movie would have been unwatchable. It’s entertaining, just don’t expect anything earth-shattering.