Sunday, 14 April 2013

Oblivion - review

Oblivion begins with what feels like an eternity's worth of voiceover narration from Tom Cruise's Jack Harper, telling the audience in the minutest detail about how the earth was attacked, last people on earth, alien scavangers, drone maintenance, yada, yada, yada (at least I assumed he was talking to us because the only other person around was Andrea Riseborough's co-worker and late night skinnydipping partner Vika and she's already aware of the situation).
Already the audience might be thinking that this feels rather similar to films like I Am Legend and WALL-E, however WALL-E was able to introduce the world it had created with zero voiceover, just creative storytelling.
Then if in any doubt that this film will be mish-mash of elements from other entries in the sci-fi genre, the title card appears with a gigantic blast of the "Inception horn".
Yes, not only is the plot highly derivative but the score is a collection of outtakes from The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Tron Legacy.
A lot of reviews for this film have criticised it over its similarities to other sci-fi classics, even going as far as explicitly naming several movies, which could act as possible spoilers due to certain plot points. This is actually doing the film a disservice.
"Everybody steals from everybody. That's movies" says Ron Livingston's character in Swingers in a debate over Tarantino's work versus Scorsese, and its true. Tarantino doesn't get nearly as much abuse as genre movies do for recycling ideas from other movies. Just look at John Carter last year. Criticised for being a rip-off of Avatar, Star Wars, etc despite being based on a 1917 novel that actually inspired those films in the first place.
All that should matter is whether or not the movie is actually any good.
My advice would be to skip reading about what movies it has ripped off, only watch the initial trailer, which unlike the others actually doesn't give too much away, because there is certainly a lot that can be appreciated in Joseph Kosinski's world. It might not be a hugely original film but it certainly isn't a bad film either.
Much like his previous film Tron Legacy, Kosinski (with his background in architecture and engineering) is very adept at creating fully realised worlds, whether it is recreating the ruins of a football stadium or the Empire State Building on the barren wastelands of Iceland or designing a living quarters that looks like it has been furnished top to bottom by Apple. All of it beautifully shot by Claudio Miranda, who just won an Oscar for his work on Life Of Pi.

Tom Cruise is dependable as ever, recycling the Everyman role he does so admirably, with the usual amount of stunt work and running added to meet his quota for the year.
The real one to watch though is Andrea Riseborough who elevates what could have been an underdeveloped role of just sitting in front of a desk reciting computer jargon into something much more engaging, delivering at times an icy turn that channels a Weyland-Yutani Company suit but with a vulnerability and longing underneath that makes the pairing "an effective team", much more so than Cruise & Kurylenko.
As with I Am Legend and WALL-E, Oblivion is a much more interesting film when exploring the post-apocalyptic world it has created and starts to lose its way with the arrival of new characters/humans/monsters and starts to unravel quite quickly under the weight of the various plot holes (if Jack has had his memory wiped how can he remember someone telling him about a Superbowl game from 70 years ago?) and the need to tick the boxes on summer blockbuster action set pieces.
Ultimately watching Oblivion is like going to a really expensive restaurant and having a Michelin-star looking plate of food only for it to still leave you feeling hungry and remembering that you've eaten a dozen similar meals which were all much more satisfying.

3 stars

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