With the luxury of bursting onto the directorial scene with a high profile sequel in the form of Tron: Legacy, Joseph Kosinski proved his prowess for the visual stylistics normally associated with big budget fare. Unfortunately, his knack for developing characters within a cohesive storyline was somewhat lacking. Recruiting the services of Hollywood’s neighbourhood action man Tom Cruise, his eagerly anticipated follow-up ‘Oblivion’ sees the director tap into the rejuvenated genre of science-fiction and have the honour of setting the tone for another blockbuster summer.
The year 2077. Our planet has been reduced to a decadent wasteland and deemed uninhabitable, after a fierce war with an alien race called the Scavs. With the human race resorting to seeking refuge on the moon Titan and in need of vital resources to survive, Commander Jack Harper (Cruise) serves as an intelligent pawn in a massive operation to protect the existence of high-tech drones and patrol the territory. With the linger of the extra-terrestrial threat, Harper is assisted by female counterpart Victoria played by Andrea Riseborough whom is the crucial communication go-between for Mission Control (voiced by Melissa Leo).
Away from his everyday duties, Harper’s memory has been wiped but remains haunted by vivid fragments of a life before the war in NYC, with a recurring figure dominating the ‘recollections’. With only two weeks left before leaving behind the world he has grown accustomed to, he displays a clear reluctance to abandon Earth. Reminiscing classic sporting moments and refusing to play by the rules and regulations of his reconaissance missions, the latter ultimately serves as a blessing in disguise when juxtaposed with Victoria’s measured approach. The dramatic rescue of a sole survivor from a damaged spacecraft named Julia (Olga Kurylenko), she serves as the proverbial ammunition for Jack to question his mission and the underlying truth behind his vague past.
With accusations already eluded to in Kosinski’s directorial approach, the narrative refinement here is certainly a mild improvement on his debut effort engaging with a plot that whilst its influences are glaringly obvious (the intimacy of Duncan Jones’ Moon and a similar premise to Wall-E in particular), remains full of intrigue. Unfortunately, the laboured pacing of its regimented first act, leaves the film relying on the star wattage of its leading man and the audience being truly immersed in an impressive production packed with dazzling apocalyptic sights, to compensate for the repetitive nature of its exposition.
Once the deliberately vague plot threads start to reveal themselves, ‘Oblivion’ hits its stride. Underpinned by an epic and spine-tingling soundtrack courtesy of M83, Kosinski is certainly efficient in planting thought provoking motifs befitting of a genre renowned for dissecting weighty issues. However, in attempting to satisfy the thrill-seekers with its futuristic and well staged set-pieces, his elaboration on such ideas aren’t quite developed enough to prompt compelling discussion.
From a performance standpoint, Tom Cruise is as dependable as ever. Already proving his worth in such fare (Spielberg’s Minority Report), he anchors the film with an understated sincerity as Jack Harper as he battles the inner demons of his existence. Making the transition from modest Brit flicks to the grandeur of Hollywood, Andrea Riseborough makes a lasting impression in a familiar and traditionally one-dimensional role as Victoria with Olga Kurylenko’s mysterious Julia sharing the screen with Cruise, often providing moments of real profoundness. The one drawback here is Morgan Freeman, whom is criminally underused. High on reciting philosophical jargon, low on originality, we’ve seen this talented actor’s routine performed much better.
Enjoyable rather than earth-shattering. ’Oblivion’ emerges as a solid and visually spectacular genre piece that sadly, only sporadically shows glimpses of pure brilliance worthy of its stellar assembling.