In the future according to writer/director Joseph Kosinski, mankind is rebuilding itself after a catastrophic war with an alien force known as the Scavengers (AKA the Scavs). The Scavs kicked things off by blowing up the moon, causing mayhem to oceans and werewolves alike. In retaliation and in the biggest act of cutting off your nose to spite your face, Earth detonated its supply of nuclear weapons before hightailing it to the planet Titan. The only inhabitants of Earth are now Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough as Commander Jack Harper and his lover, Victoria Olsen; a couple who look after and repair an army or drones that in turn protect the hydropower stations that provide energy to the colony on Titan. But post-apocalyptic life isn’t that easy and Tom finds his day to day life blighted by remnants of the Scav army. But it doesn’t stop there folks, oh no! Into the fray, comes Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko) the lone survivor of a ship that disappeared the same time the war started. What’s her connection to Tom and why is Andrea so suspicious of her? All will be answered in this derivative, limp noodle of a film.
Okay, cards on the table. Oblivion is not the worst film in the history of the motion picture, but it doesn’t help itself. There is just so many things that require patching up or just a little more thought. It’s the cinematic equivalent of watching a man leap from a tall building with only a napkin to help him land safely. You have to admire them for the courage of their convictions, but the final result could have been better with some more planning.
It’s not so much the cherry picking of other films that stings (The Matrix, Star Wars, Wall-E, Phantasm, and Independence Day), it’s the internal logic that hurts. For example, the Scavs are shown early on to be feral, parkour experts, but by the third act they flail around like a monkey licking a plug socket. And there is so much spoon feeding repetition the script feels like it was written by Johnny Two-Times before he got the papers. A 5 minute opening narrative by the Cruise is not only repeated verbatim later to Kurylenko, but it’s referenced numerous times before then, leaving it totally redundant to be at the beginning in the first place. We are a smart collective of people Kosinski! We are capable of picking up the bread crumbs you leave. It’s almost insulting the film feels we need to take breaks every 20 minutes for exposition review.
The only saving grace of this entire Crayola drawing is in the form of Riseborough, who provides the film with its only nuances and genuine emotion. A flashback to her early relationship with Tom is loaded with meaning that can’t be expressed in words or bloody narration. In fact, this one scene alone makes us wish that she had Kurylenko’s part, who does very little other than simmer and look suspicious. Risebourough is such a joy to the film that is criminal how little she is used and how her character is reduced to nothing more than a quick downward spiral to loony bin territory. This is not her fault, but highlights the problems with a script that resolves things off screen or through exposition.
With a dénouement that will have you shaking your fists at the screen, Oblivion is a frustrating film that suggests that you may not be able to polish a turd, but you can use smoke and mirrors to hide it for bit.