Review: Oblivion (2013)

Tom Cruise stars in Oblivion, a sci-fi adventure about the aftermath of Earth following a war against aliens.

What’s the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of science fiction and Tom Cruise? Maybe Scientology, but the next thing would surely be Minority Report. And why not, it’s already deemed a classic collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Cruise. So when another futuristic tale comes along with him as the star, that is rightly seen as the benchmark. Thus, Oblivion had a lot to live up to. It’s nowhere near that quality but surprisingly not half as bad as what the uninspiring trailer made it out to be.

After being Jack Reacher in his previous film, Cruise now plays Jack Harper, a repairman in 2077. Except what he fixes are big drones dotted around the Earth. They maintain power stations that provide sea-water energy for a space colony housing all humans above the planet. They left after an alien race called Scavs invaded sixty years earlier and, although humans won the ensuing war against them, the use of nuclear weapons rendered the world uninhabitable.

So Jack, along with his lover Vika (Andrea Riseborough), co-ordinate repair and recon work on the independent drones; Jack does the ground work while Vika is his eyes from above in a floating sky residence. These drones also take out the remaining Scavs left on Earth, but what Jack knows about the world and the war is thrown into confusion when an unidentified spaceship falls to Earth containing humans – one being someone he’s been having dreams about.

Possibly due to the fact there were low expectations and little fanfare upon its release, Oblivion is a surprise package to the sci-fi library – drawing influence from the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes to Moon. It touches on different classics with its visuals, story and characterisations. The special effects are quietly impressive, using nuanced lifelike designs (such as the helicopter/aircraft hybrid) to achieve the realism needed to draw us into this desolate future.

The plot leans towards the emotional side of things too, which is a refreshing change to an all-out action-packed adventure one usually expects with Cruise. Here he’s caught between the loving eyes of Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko – the English rose and the foreign beauty – but the choice he makes is disappointingly forced.

Inevitably the film does start going through the motions once Morgan Freeman’s character comes into it and the appearance of Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj CosterWaldau really is unnecessary as all he does is grunt and scowl. Melissa Leo pops up as (surprise, surprise) a figure of authority but otherwise Cruise gives a more subdued performance than usual which, as the film progresses, actually contributes to his appeal.

Regardless, there is nothing ground-breaking here despite being original. But with some nifty effects, an interesting twist and some competent directing from Tron Legacy director Jospeh Kosinski, this is dependable entertainment from a dependable star. Oblivion shows that Cruise’s career is still in good shape as well as himself physically – even at 50 years old.

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