Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This film is successful in what it intended to do, provide the requisite thrills and dazzling visuals, chases and explosions, that the average movie-goer expects from a modern SF action film. However, if you've been paying attention, you'll know I am not the average movie-goer, so for me Oblivion is a failure. The story is not totally transparent, even if you've seen a lot of the promos, but its execution is rife with cliches, images and set pieces cobbled together from numerous other movies, primary among them 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original Star Wars from 1977. In short, it seems to be a movie-by-committee, including all the tropes with which people are already familiar, along with what seems to have become the obligatory 9/11 evocation.
The movie is well cast, with Cruise providing yet another casually strong and confident performance, sort of a cross between Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Dave Bowman from 2001. Morgan Freeman is the wise moral compass, the Obi-Wan Kenobi figure. Melissa Leo is only seen on video monitors, and that disembodied presence is effective in creating a suspicious air around her comments, so she becomes the default authority figure whose agenda we naturally doubt. Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kuryenko play the two women in Cruise's life, but I won't spoil the details of their romantic and emotional entanglements. In fact, I can't say much more without spoiling quite a bit, but I need to weave around that predicament in order to talk about the film's faults.
Cruise plays Jack Harper, aka Tech #49, whose job it is to oversee and repair various drone aircraft that patrol the post-apocalyptic landscape. About sixty years prior to the main action there was a war between Earth and an alien force, a war Jack is sure humanity won even if it did leave the planet a devastated wasteland. A colony has been established on Titan, largest moon of Saturn, and Jack and his partner/mate Victoria (Riseborough) are promised a berth on the next transport as soon as their assignment is complete. There seem to be alien survivors still on Earth, bent on destruction of several tech projects that are producing power for the ships traveling to Titan. It is this technology that Jack and the drones are tasked to defend.
That's as much of a synopsis as you need, so now I need to discuss several plot holes, which in turn lead to several others. The director and writers were probably more concerned with their "subtle" misdirection of what is going on than worrying about a few other things that didn't make much sense. Major among them is the existence of Julia (Kuryenko), as well as Jack's protection of her when drones attempt to kill her, but to explain that would be a big spoiler. A bit of tech connected to Julia's ship is another goof, but that is not apparent until very late in the movie. Since most of Jack and Victoria's actions are monitored by Sally (Leo) and others in Mission, a way had to be found for Jack to have some alone time. So Mission is not in a geo-synchronous orbit and thus is out of range on the other side of Earth for hours of every day. Jack uses some of that time to retreat to a secret hideaway, which he has yet to reveal to Victoria, and which is yet another thing that makes no sense. Every other area that we see of the planet is either as barren as the sands of Tatooine, or else filled with recognizable landmarks which will remind you of scenes from Planet of the Apes or I Am Legend. Yet Jack's hideaway is a true oasis, lots of trees and other thriving plant life, with a rustic cabin he has constructed next to a mountain lake. Where in the hell is that place and why does Mission not know about it?
These are just a few of the inconsistencies that almost had me laughing out loud. Another standard trope, that of the bad guys not being good shots, is played out in several scenes with the drones, one of which dramatically pauses in its attack allowing it to be destroyed. In another scene one is taken out by a small handgun. The drones are supposed to have advanced scanning techniques, but in several instances they are conveniently unable to detect crucial information. There are times when more firepower than necessary is used (but is still not effective), other times a little seems to go an extremely long way. I'm not even going to get into the preposterous epilogue. Since I don't recommend this movie I guess I shouldn't be so intent on not spoiling the plot, so I'll relent and give you what I consider a major hint about Jack Harper. The other movies I've already mentioned are far from the only ones I thought of while watching. Another was Moon, along with practically anything adapted from a Philip K. Dick story. 'Nuff said.
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