Originally conceived as a graphic novel, "Oblivion" is the second film from director Joseph Kosinski ("TRON: Legacy"). Both written and directed by Kosinski, "Oblivion" is a visual tour de force, even if the pacing is a bit off every now and then.
Set in the near future, "Oblivion" tells the story of technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise). Harper and his partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), are part of a "clean-up crew" left behind on Earth in the aftermath of an attempted alien invasion. Humans ostensibly won the war, but the conflict destroyed most of the planet. Now, with most humans already evacuated, the only thing remaining is to finish mining useful resources before moving off-world.
Jack's seemingly normal life is thrown into disarray by the sudden appearance of a NASA spacecraft from 60 years prior, which crash-lands on the surface of the planet. Inexplicably, one of the crew is familiar to Jack. Though he has never met her before, Julia (Olga Kurylenko) looks exactly like a mysterious woman from his dreams. Oddly, she is also deemed hostile by the security drones that Jack is tasked to keep in working order – drones that are only supposed to attack the remnants of the alien invasion.
It doesn't help that Julia is initially distrustful of Jack and Victoria, refusing to reveal details of her original mission to the pair. Still, the mystery is too much for Jack to ignore, and he defies orders so he can sort out the truth.
Although the story driving "Oblivion" is original, it is clearly inspired by modern science fiction. Any fan of the genre will be able to identify elements pulled from across the board. Classic films such as "Mad Max" and "2001: A Space Odyssey," TV shows like "Star Trek," even modern video games such as Portal had an obvious influence on Kosinski's work. It's interesting to see, as nothing is directly re-used; rather, it's more like the director has taken core sci-fi tropes and used them to craft something of his own.
Visually, "Oblivion" is incredibly strong, benefitting from an aesthetic that looks as though it was pulled directly from a video game or comic book. This isn't a surprise given Kosinski's past work (in addition to "TRON: Legacy," he also directed video game commercials, including the well-known Gears of War "Mad World" spot), but it does mean that the future Earth will feel somewhat familiar to gamers and comic book readers.
Future technology as shown in the film isn't that far off from current tech (massive towers in the sky notwithstanding). Rather, the futuristic bent is indicated by soft lines and a lot of rounded edges. It's a clean technological look that's been favored by futurists for years.
Backing up the visuals is an impressive score by M83. Sweeping sounds that are evocative of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack form the basis of the music here, and it works well. Almost entirely thematic, the soundtrack contains only one vocal track, which plays over the end credits. Everything else stands on the quality of the music alone, but it stands apart from typical, forgettable movie scores. Epic, without being needlessly bombastic, the music is easily the strongest element of "Oblivion." If you weren't familiar with M83 before the film, you will be afterward.
Where "Oblivion" stumbles is in its pacing. This is an issue that Kosinski had with "TRON: Legacy," and to be fair, he's much better about it here, but "Oblivion" still has moments of overindulgence. Certain sequences just go on a bit too long for no obvious reason. While the cinematography is always visually pleasing, having elements that don't drive the story forward is bound to cause a lull in interest among viewers. Had Kosinski been a little more aggressive in the editing bay, "Oblivion" would have benefited.
Thankfully, though, those lulls only seem to impact the center portion of the film. Once the final section of the story kicks into gear, Kosinski moves full steam ahead, offering up answers to questions that were asked early on as well as giving the audience a dramatic ending that serves as a worthwhile payoff. Our only quibble here lies with the epilogue. Kosinski tries to wrap up things just a bit too neatly. Had he chosen to end the film about a minute earlier, the emotional impact would have been that much stronger.
Feeling both familiar and fresh, "Oblivion" is a modern sci-fi film that brings the genre back to its roots. Sure, it has plenty of fancy special effects, but underneath it all is a story of human perseverance against all odds. Classic sci-fi always had the human element at its core, and it's nice to see that element in play here.
"Oblivion" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 5 minutes. It is showing in 2-D and IMAX.
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