Andy Bockelman: ‘Oblivion’ a familiar tale of a future gone wrong
May 2, 2013
"Oblivion," rated PG-13
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Run time: 124 minutes
Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman
Steamboat Springs — Even if the years to come have yet to actually happen, the predictions of countless films, books and TV shows have made it so the future will offer us no surprises. That's not the only problem a futuristic movie like "Oblivion" has working against it, but it certainly is one of its bigger obstacles.
In the latter half of the 21st century, Earth as we know it is but a memory. The planet has been ravaged by nuclear warfare following an alien invasion, and what's left of the population is preparing to colonize the rest of the solar system decades after the devastation that caused them to evacuate their home.
Two people remain stationed on Earth, Jack and Victoria (Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough), and their job to ensure that the last of the world's natural resources can be gathered as mankind tries to rebuild. Jack's work of repairing the machinery possible to start anew elsewhere in the universe also entails dealing with attacks by hordes of Scavs, aliens who have managed to survive on the foreign planet.
Jack's patrols have given him some close calls, and his suspicion that the Scavs are stalking him is intensified when he encounters a downed spacecraft containing human beings, one of whom (Olga Kurylenko) seems to know him. This new discovery leads him to doubt whether his mission truly is what he always has believed it to be.
For Cruise's fans, seeing him as the possible savior of humanity must be a joy. For others, not so much. He does do a commendable job of convincing us that Jack doesn't know the whole story behind how he and the rest of his race got to this point, but his character doesn't seem to catch on all that quick when weird things start happening.
Riseborough is much better as his associate, with Victoria approaching her job as Jack's eye in the sky with much more caution than his cavalier method. It's when the two are off duty that we see why she's so watchful, fully vested in a romantic relationship with her partner despite the fact he considers the relationship to be purely platonic, a sadness that only becomes more glaring with the new woman in Jack's life.
However many questions might arise with the arrival of Kurylenko's Julia, it's Morgan Freeman who poses the most queries as the leader of a band of human survivors telling Jack a greatly different version of Earth's history than he's ever heard.
You can't blame Jack for not wanting to listen to a group of people who dress like the Predator and the Tusken Raiders mixed and matched their wardrobes, yet it takes an interminable amount of time for this protagonist to get with the program. Jack's mention of troubling dreams that feel like memories immediately give the audience the idea that there's going to be some interesting twists, so when said twists take place, it's to no avail.
Director Joseph Kosinski has a lot to learn about story structure and foreshadowing in bringing his own graphic novel to the screen. We've seen many versions of the future where circumstances have left people in a confused state, but the heavy-handedness with which he approaches the story's big reveals spoils the kind of profundity they ought to have.
Kosinski's take on "Tron: Legacy" relied on revamping the look of an already established world, and one strength he has here is he can create his own aesthetics, as seen in Jack and Victoria's ultramodern abode, his oddly shaped ship — complete with an Elvis bobblehead on the dashboard — and the Tet, a pyramid-shaped space station floating above Earth's atmosphere housing the remnants of humanity, as well as the dynamic duo's supervisor (Melissa Leo).
Even with all these hints of originality, "Oblivion" never overcomes the sensation that it's a run-of-the-mill science fiction story in new packaging. It's one thing to throw in a few references to "2001: A Space Odyssey," but ripping off "WALL-E" is just not cool.
Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Steamboat Springs.