Oblivion (Frank’s Take) (film review).

The boisterous space-aged yarn ‘Oblivion’ is a post-apocalyptic popcorn pleaser that may be met with mixed reception depending on your definition of tolerance for rousing, recycled sci-fi cinema. On one hand, the positive outlook is that ‘Oblivion’  boasts what moviegoers routinely expect from a typical Tom Cruise vehicle — a flashy actioner with hotshot Tom Terrific pushing the excitable buttons in what amounts to be revved-up flick dipped in radiant shades of vibrancy. Naturally, Cruise is no stranger to the genre of fantasy-filled flamboyant escapism where saving the world from ruination is top priority.

As for the less-than-positive vibes that blemish ‘Oblivion’, the sentiment is such that the futuristic Cruise-control caper never quite captures an imaginative or distinctive tone while running on the straight-forward fumes of other borrowed concepts from current and nostalgic sci-fi fare. Instead of soaking in the whimsical wonderment of ‘Oblivion’s surrealistic scope one finds the need to recognise how much the carbon copy material undermines what could have been an intriguing action-adventure with its own sense of style, substance and sensuality.

Oblivion... why you run so hard, Tom Cruise?
Go, Tom, go!

Although opulent, ambitious and populated with fine performers that try to breathe some creative life into the sporadic script, ‘Oblivion’ is stiff thematically and fails to deliver a premium-plus pulse of twitchy intrigue and surging suspense. Theoretically, ‘Oblivion’ has all the top-notch zip of a ‘Battlestar Galactica’ TV re-run from the early 80s.

Director Joseph Kosinski (‘Tron: Legacy’) and screenwriters Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt revisit familiar territory here and particularly do not have anything original, impish or introspective to offer beyond the confines of a mechanical sci-fi fable that marches to the beat of other cinematic influences. Shamelessly, ‘Oblivio’n taps into such reminiscences of ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Matrix’, ‘Total Recall’, ‘The Book Of Eli’ and ‘Phantasm’ (and even Cruise’s signature free-wheeling classic ‘Top Gun’) that one is left wondering why Kosinski’s Xerox-coated narrative did not dip into other possible targets for consideration.

Cruise plays Jack Harper, a drone-servicing technician whose responsibilities entail that his profession is to ensure the safety of a post-nuclear Earth by preventing the invasion of alien scavengers (or ‘scavs’ as referred to in the movie). It is the year 2077 and Harper works diligently with his pretty partner Vicca (Andrea Riseborough, ‘Welcome To The Punch’). Sixty years ago in 2017, the planet was riddled with war-torn activity and never quite recovered from the planetary destruction. So Harper and Vicca are the only Earth-bound humans as their fellow citizens are residing on the moon Saturn securing their existences there and yes…both Jack and Vicca find some amorous time for some intimate pillow talk.

Harper and Vicca answer to their rigid superior Sally (Oscar-winner Melissa Leo), the commander of the space station where her orders are issued. The important factor to consider is that both Harper and Vicca (and countless others for that matter) have had their memories erased completely. The chronic memory losses — at the hands of the nefarious government officials — and the continual maintenance of the heavily armed drones to maintain societal order are a handful for Jack Harper to handle. As if that is not enough to consider, Harper finds himself occasionally in a dream-like malaise involving early 21st century New York and the Empire State Building as a romantic fixation for he and his imaginary lover-in-lust (Olga Kurylenko).

Can Jack Harper learn his true identity and not compromise his heroic duties to protect the vulnerable world from being further impoverished? Does Harper have enough stamina to contain the computerised orbs from demolishing a deteriorating Earth with his awesomely designer jet? How does Cruise’s nifty-minded narration compare to the velvet voiceover mastery of Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman as one of the space station dignitaries onboard? How soon after the mission can Harper join the remaining survivors on the distant lunar colony? Is the wrecked Earth worth saving or is the effort to safeguard it from further degradation futile? Just how complicated is the three-way love affair with Jack and his two objects of affection in Vicca and Ms. Empire State Building beauty?

‘Oblivion’ is based on the co-creative collaboration of Kosinski’s unpublished graphic novel. There is a crystal bluish hypnotic aura that gives the film a mesmerizing mystique visually. It is too bad that the cinematic aesthetics outmaneuver the patchy script that conveniently recalls selective film recollections without trying to conceive anything fresh and frolicking on its own merit. Sadly, this is nothing more than standardised sci-fi epic shenanigans that register with the impact of a moon crater made out of cheddar cheese.

Generic and atmospheric, ‘Oblivion’ is cobbled together from a cluster of previous entertainment sources that have already initially proven their thrill-seeking factor.

Oblivion (2013) Universal Pictures

2 hrs. 5 mins.

Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Melissa Leo

Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Genre: Science Fiction/Action and Adventure/Fantasy

Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)


Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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