Tom Cruise is the future (and L. Ron Hubbard does a happy-dance): “Oblivion”

April 22, 2013


Well, summer is here, and with it the first big action vehicle of the season. If Oblivion is a harbinger of the movies to come, then this summer will be…ah…I hesitate to use the word good, necessarily, so let’s just say interesting. Because that’s an apt enough description for Tom Cruise’s latest charm-blitzkrieg, hot on the heels of his borderline-flop Jack Reacher (real-world violence interfered with Tom’s hero fantasies). It’s a lopsided beast, a visually-spectacular, languidly-paced minor head-trip that serves to give Tom another chance to run, squint, be heroic, and save humanity. Because what the hell else would Tom Cruise be doing in a Tom Cruise movie?

The world  of Oblivion is established through a long (really, really long) opening monologue which establishes that, yeah, Earth is pretty much trashed. A nasty war with some aliens called Scavengers (really? A hundred years of sci-fi movies and “Scavengers” is the best we as a species could come up with?) They blew up the moon—which, if you know anything about, well, the moon then you know that caused massive ecological damage. Then, for good measure, we used nukes to repel the landing invaders. And that pretty much took care of Earth.

The House on the Rock has nothing on this...

The House on the Rock has nothing on this…

The begins fifty years later as humanity holes up in a massive space station called the Tet awaiting relocation to a moon of Saturn. Which seems like the perfect place to live, right? Nice, habitable Saturn? Anyway, Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, who, along with his lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) manage the maintenance of the massive hydro-collectors sucking the oceans dry to fuel to trip to Saturn (I don’t know, just go with it), as well as the armed drones that protect them from the remaining Scavengers.

Jack and Victoria live in a house seemingly built from scratch by IKEA high above the clouds. Every day, while Victoria manages comms with the Tet, Jack heads out in his nifty little spaceship to tool around the now-empty Earth. To, uh, kill time I guess, Jack likes to visit the relics of our lost civilization, scrounging little knick-knacks and boogieing down to classic tunes. So, yeah, writer/director Andrew Kosinski is a big fan of at least one Pixar movie.

It's like WALL_E's ex-con brother-in-law.

It’s like WALL-E’s ex-con brother-in-law.

Anyway, one day while TOMM-E is fixing a drone, he is attacked by Scavengers. Weird thing is, they seemed more interested in catching him than killing him. This is odd, since Jack has always heard that Scavs have no interest in people aside from killing them. Shortly after this, something seriously weird happens. An old, pre-war NASA ship crash lands, spewing cryo-pods. One of those pods contains a woman Jack has been seeing in his dreams—dreams of a life and a love he couldn’t have lived, for it happened long before the war began.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as I can go in this SPOILER-FREE review without giving up the movie’s secrets, and since it takes over two hours to get the whole story (usually delivered in large barfs of exposition), it would be kind of a disservice to ruin it all.

"This is pretty much all I do in this movie."

“This is pretty much all I do in this movie.”

There’s a real tension at the core of Oblivion, one that makes an already somewhat lumpy screenplay even more uneven. Kosinski is clearly trying to make a combination of ‘70s-era sci-fi movies—an eco-thriller grafted to a psychological drama. This isn’t impossible, but Kosinski hasn’t yet learned how to tell a story cleanly and efficiently—witness Tron: Legacy. He is very good at visuals, and with Oblivion, he ups the promise he showed with that earlier movie. The movie never fails to look not only great, but also genuinely imaginative.

This is just cool.

This is just cool.

The problem is, this is also a Tom Cruise vehicle, which means that even if Kosinski wants to have some languid moments of beautiful scenes, pretty soon, we gotta have Tom saving the world, and…hoo-boy, I’m not giving anything away, but the denouement has to be some high-water mark in Tom’s celluloid edifices to himself. Just see the movie. You’ll see what I mean.

Also hobbling the film is Kosinski’s utter disinterest in most of the characters. Jack is never more than a cartoon hero, imbued with strength, bravery, and wisdom, because, well, everyone says so. As Victoria, Andrea Riseborough, gives the best performance. She’s always just a little off—enough to destabilize the viewer—eventually becoming tragic in her own way. Everyone else is pretty much a blank. Even Olga Kurylenko as Jack’s dream woman is, well, she’s Olga Kurylenko. Of course she’s his One True Love. She’s hot. Unfortunately, the dubbing they used to eliminate her accent severely compromises her performance.

"Love me! Love me! DON'T INCUR THE WRATH OF XENU!"

“Love me! Love me! DON’T INCUR THE WRATH OF XENU!”

So, is Oblivion any good? Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s draggy in places. The story is moderately clever. But it looks great, even if it isn’t as smart as it wants to be. Kosinski may yet grow into a good filmmaker, rather than a competent one with a good eye. Cruise, however, reeks of desperation. He’s pushing 50 and still wants to pretend he’s a kid. There’s nothing sadder than a movie star blowing 120 million bucks in an attempt to remind the world they should still think he’s awesome.


  1. Personally I think this movie looks great. I haven’t seen it yet but I plan to this week sometime. I’ve always loved sci-fi movies; I guess you could call me a nerd. Tom Cruise Usually has some pretty good movies, but he has had some really bad ones too. I think this one will be good though.

    • I hope you enjoy it. See it on IMAX, if you can. The visuals really become amazing on IMAX.

  2. I agree with you for the most part, but I personally think Cruise’s character is a little more developed and complex than you give him credit. Besides him and Andrea, everyone else is pretty bad though sadly as you said and Morgan Freeman was just average. I have attached my review if you are interested: http://vlizz.com/2013/04/21/oblivion-review-a-sound-design-back-massage-featuring-tom-cruise/

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