I have hardly met a movie I didn’t like. Most of the time when I see a movie, I like it. There have been more than a few that I don’t feel very strongly about one way or another. But you can count on one hand the number of movies that I genuinely dislike. With that said, I like the movie Oblivion starring Tom Cruise. Let me tell you why.
Be warned this will contain a few SPOILERS, some of which you may have already guessed from seeing the previews and with others I will put up SPOILER WARNINGS.
If you have seen the previews you have heard the basic premise of the film but I will recap it anyway for you.
It is the future, Earth was attacked by aliens, humanity defeated the aliens but the planet was devastated and humanity had to evacuate. The only people left on Earth are Jack the drone repairman played by Tom Cruise and his tech support/girlfriend played by Andrea Riseborough. They protect the big energy converter things that are powering the space station all the humans are living on now from the leftover alien scavengers. And of course this whole premise turns out to be false on several levels during the course of the movie as Jack learns the truth about what really happened during the war and its aftermath.
So the movie starts out kind of simple with this slice-of-daily-life look at Jack and Victoria as they fix drones and get ready to leave Earth once and for all but Jack is having doubts and dreams about past Earth and Olga Kurylenko. It has some cool cinematic visuals and a soundtrack epic enough to be worthy of any classic science fiction film. Then the story picks up with the alien scavengers seemingly conspiring to sabotage the giant energy converters. Next thing you know Olga Kurylenko has appeared in the flesh as the only survivor of a crashed space ship, you know after the other survivors are killed by the drones Jack repairs.
What follows are a few “twists” that will be pretty obvious to anyone who has seen the previews, has read or watched science fiction before, or is capable of thinking.
Olga Kurylenko’s character Julia of course turns out to be Jack’s wife and his dreams of her are actually his wiped memories coming back. The sabotaging alien scavengers are in fact human beings wearing special gear that helps them evade the killer drones.
The story has a few more twisty moments. They are better than the ones that came before but I would hardly call them mind blowing. They are more like the “wait, what the hell? How does that make any sense?” type of twists. But I assure you that it all does make sense in the end and the payoff is pretty good.
The movie has a few action type scenes but they are mostly just humans shooting at the killer drones and one flying dogfight but they feel more like a distraction than anything else. I found myself wishing they would hurry up and finish shooting at stuff so we could get back to the story so we could find out what the hell was really going on.
As I said earlier it all makes sense in the end. The final confrontation with the film’s big bad is awesome and worth everything else that came before.
Oblivion has a final message about love transcending time and even death and I have to admit I am a sucker for that sort of thing especially in science fiction, but at the same time that message comes with some huge existential questions about the nature of identity and free will that are not addressed. I suppose they could be explored in a sequel but I hope this remains a stand alone film because I think it made a nice complete story.
I think one of the best things Oblivion has going for it is the cast. Tom Cruise may not be everyone’s favorite Hollywood leading man but I enjoy his work enough to disconnect from whatever craziness he gets up to in real life for an hour or two. Morgan Freeman almost seems underused but he plays his part well. Olga Kurylenko manages to be more than just pretty face leading lady with a few well placed character reaction expressions at the right moments. If any one performance truly shines it is Andrea Riseborough as Victoria. In a way her character is at the center of the dilemma between seeking out the truth and choosing to live in ignorance (or oblivion if you will) that Jack faces and Andrea Riseborough really sells the part.
Now just in case I am going to put up a SPOILER WARNING because this will be the most spoiler filled part of this review.
I don’t want to end this review without talking about Sally played primarily through the voice work of Melissa Leo. At first Sally appears to be Jack and Victoria’s boss up on the space station. She is so friendly and upbeat that it is obvious she will turn out to be evil later on. In fact it turns out she is not even really human which also is not hard to figure out but the truth behind her is kind of a cool reveal. Melissa Leo does a great job of going from sweet and friendly to sinister-alien-force-that-believes-itself-equal-to-a-god. Some audience members may leave the theater wondering where the mighty alien enemy Sally came from and what her motives were. For those of us more familiar with such tropes of science fiction we can piece together her most likely origin.
Now keep in mind this is just my own wild speculation. None of this is said in the movie.
She was probably constructed long ago as some kind of ultimate weapon but at some point turned on her creators and destroyed them and ever since she has been traveling across the universe devouring life sustaining planets as she goes. Basically Sally is a cross between Skynet and Galactus but even with that in mind I think she makes a pretty damn good villain.
SPOILERS DONE if you skipped that part.
In closing, I really like Oblivion. I know some other people will not. Even though it explains everything in its own way some people will still feel like it requires them to think too much, and the truth is its not even trying to be that smart. I hope this movie does well but I don’t want it to do so well they decide to make a sequel because it would probably be terrible.
All images are from the official Oblivion movie website http://www.oblivionmovie2013.com/