Film Review: Oblivion (2013)

The post-apocalyptic epic that is ‘Oblivion’, is a challenging film that isn’t afraid to go against the norms of your everyday blockbuster. Indeed it is very much the ‘alternative’ blockbuster, with smatterings of action scenes outweighed by tense showdowns, unexpected plot twists, a gorgeous visual style that engorges the eyes and an exceptional sounding soundtrack from masters of ‘dream’ music M83.

For director Joseph Kosinski, this is very much HIS film. He wrote the graphic novel the movie is based on, and has been in the driver’s seat since the very beginning. However, despite this, ‘Oblivion’, suffers from the same flaws of his debut feature 2010’s ‘Tron Legacy’, which everyone agreed benefited from stunning visuals and a score from electro-gods, Daft Punk, but lacked somewhat with it’s storyline. ‘Oblivion’, is a much stronger film on the whole, and by the end I was just about satisfied I 100% knew what was going on, but through large parts, the film suffers from a lack of cohesive plot, a couple of details in particularly not explained enough for my liking, and some slow story pacing.

Oblivion’, centres on, technically, the last humans on earth, in the form of Jack and Victoria, two engineers who have been chosen to work together as they have the most ‘efficient relationship’. Jack, played by Tom Cruise, goes out in his little flying ship, the flying  equivalent to a Fiat 500 perhaps, whilst Victoria, played by Andrea Riseborough, manages him from their picturesque home in the sky. Jack’s job is to maintain drones that roam the Earth, mining it for it’s resources, after a war between the humans and an alien race known as the Scavs. Nukes were deployed and the humans won, before fleeing to one of Saturn’s many moons, Titan (this is all revealed in a Cruise monologue right at the very beginning). However, some Scavs got left behind, and Cruise must keep a watchful eye out for them, as they seek revenge…or so it seems. That’s the basic premise but before long you’ll be scratching your head as to what the hell is going on! A day later, and I think I’ve just about worked it out, but I wouldn’t mind a second viewing just to clear things up for myself.

Acting-wise, the cast are all spot on, delivering nice, competent performances. Cruise is in his action elements, but is a bit more well-rounded than you’d presume given his past, you actually root for him during the 126 minute running time, as you realize what on earth has happened to him. Riseborough is strong and composed as his partner, not evolving as much as Cruise, but showing some reservation and emotions, as ‘things’ hit the fan for the two of them as they know it.

Two actors which I don’t want to speak about too much, but sort of have to mention without giving away too much of the story, are Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman. Kurylenko appears as a human survivor who crash lands on Earth, and is in the hands of Cruise for the majority of the film. I was really impressed with her, as ever since her initial debut in the god-awful James Bond film ‘Quantum of Solace’, I’d never really rated her too highly, but she proved me wrong and was a revelation. Freeman sees very little screen-time, but proves his genuine worth towards the climax, whereas beforehand he looked like he was posting it in from miles away. He’s solid, and does add to the film on the whole.

That aside, and with one last comment on the story, I liked it. It has no links to a film like ‘Inception’, except one crucial factor: they get you thinking. Sure both have able doses of action to complement plots to make you think, and ‘Oblivion’, doesn’t reach Nolan’s excellent film, but I like that more and more filmmakers are at least attempting to branch out to audiences and make them think, rather than pump up the sound effects and show endless fight sequences, a la ‘Transformers’. It’s a positive change, for sure.

As I said previously, the soundtrack and visuals really make this film what it is. Director Kosinski, drafted in M83 man Anthony Gonzalez, who worked at bringing his band’s ‘dream’-like qualities to the big screen, and whilst on it’s own it cannot be classed as a direct M83 album as such, it is a success as a soundtrack to the film. Airy electronica and big, beefy drums complement the action, fitting the sci-fi genre perfectly, and I have to say it met my high expectations. The visuals alongside this were awesome too, sure a lot would’ve been special effects, but the run-down football stadiums, the crumbling Empire State Building, and the open, vast landscapes were perfectly portrayed by cinematographer Claudio Miranda.

What with all this positivity, then you might be thinking, ‘What’s wrong with it?!’. Well, only a couple, but a couple that stop it being a truly excellent film. Firstly, the middle. The story is buzzing with life and a strong concept at the start, but drags for a long stretch in the middle where there is no real aim towards the ending. It’s quite stagnant and any momentum fizzles out quickly. Fortunately, it picks up again to build to a satisfying conclusion, the epic music helping that cause, but it was almost verging on boring. There are also certain story elements that needed that little bit extra information to make it solid in the audience’s head, and I think that a lot of the film is open to your own interpretation, which is a good thing, but sort of softens the impact of the story for me, personally.

Overall it’s a good film, and deserving of your hard-earned money. Expect a slippery story that verges on boredom and brilliance at different stages of time, some good performances that almost match some excellent visuals and audio. ‘Oblivion’, isn’t a game-changer, more of a place-holder.


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