Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski, 2013)
Let’s not waste too much time on this film (I always say that about films I don’t like, however, and then keep on writing . . .). I agree, for the most part, with Manohla Dargis’s review in the New York Times. As much I as love Kenneth Turan, I do not agree with his review in the Los Angeles Times.
From the get-go, I knew I was in trouble. Within just a few minutes, in an opening spoiled with a painfully expositional voiceover, we are exposed to multiple derivative images and ideas, revealing the director’s limited imagination for all to see. Films that came to mind right away included Vanilla Sky (also starring Tom Cruise) and La jetée (with its companion Hollywood remake Twelve Monkeys). As the film progressed we were treated to more such “homages,” with direct steals from Inception (the horn chords), Raiders of the Lost Ark (the descent into the pit), The Island (with its impossible and ludicrous action sequences), and Minority Report (another Tom Cruise film – this one referenced through the humans-in-pods imagery, which itself referenced The Matrix). Oblivion‘s production design even made me feel as if the art department and director had somehow seen Abiogenesis, one of the runners-up for nomination as an Oscar-nominated animated short last year (though not in fact nominated). I wasn’t even sure if that was possible, given the production schedules of each film, but by this point, it didn’t matter. Adding to this consistent and constant sense of déjà vu was the fact that I had only recently seen Tom Cruise in another preposterous film where he played a character named Jack: Jack Reacher. Forgive me, but it seems like Tom Cruise, at 50, has decided that he really really really wants to play parts where he gets to be superhuman tough, supercool, and play with super-duper toys (actually, don’t forgive – the guy’s a Scientologist, which I find unforgivable). Then again, Tom Cruise – a movie star since the 1980s – has been in so many movies that it would almost be hard NOT to make a pastiche like this from all of his roles.
All through the movie, I kept wondering who the director was. What had s/he made, previously, to justify the faith of the producers? And there it is, above, on the poster: Tron: Legacy. With a pedigree like that, what could go wrong? Ha! I mean, this is the kind of film where not only do we get a gratuitous sex scene with suggestive music, but we also get a meaningless cutaway of Tom Cruise’s shirt being thrown off to the side. That takes creative guts, man. As does the use of a cheesy graphic on a touch screen, pointing out how a nuclear bomb will reach its target, supposedly sufficing to show us what a great programmer Jack is.
What’s the film about? It’s the future – 2077, as Cruise so precisely tells us – and the earth has been destroyed in a battle with aliens. The humans won, but the planet was rendered largely uninhabitable through the destruction of the moon. Now Cruise (as Jack Harper!) and his partner/lover Vika (Andrea Riseborough), have been sent down to work on a transfer of energy (gathered through suctioning up the oceans into large floating nuclear reactors – that’s right, huh?). Both Harper and Vika have – prior to this gig – had their memories wiped, though Harper keeps on having flashes to a possible previous life where his lover was not Vika, but a woman played by (an absolutely terrible in this movie) Olga Kurylenko. Ah – that reminds me of another “referenced” film: Total Recall. My head began to hurt more and more as the improbabilities of the plot piled the one upon the other. How is that destroyed moon hanging in the sky supposed to work, anyway? And why have the earthquakes and tsunamis that destroyed civilization-as-we-know-it mysteriously stopped?
Before you protest that it’s “just a movie,” or even “just science fiction,” let me just say that even the most fanciful plots need to demonstrate some kind of logical consistency within the terms of the world they create. I found lots of holes in Looper, for example, but loved it anyway, as it managed to have enough consistency (and non-derivative plot points) to hold my interest. It also had better acting.
As the movie progresses, as you will know if you’ve seen the trailer, Morgan Freeman shows up, as a rebel against this supposedly clear new world order. But even he can’t save the film. And when he delivers the line about how Astronaut. Jack. Harper. Was. The. Best. Of. Us . . . it really felt like he was just there for the paycheck.
Save your paycheck, and avoid this mess.