In choppy, frizzed, black and white video, Sally, a boisterous leader with a southern drawl asks, “Are you still an effective team?” Agreeably, the woman on the other end of the line, Victoria, responds with a nod and Sally labors forward with technical orders. But I too, can respond to this inquiry in agreement. Director Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”), with Oblivion, has put together a clamorous, stimulating science fiction piece that keeps the viewer on seat edge for most of its 126 minute running time.
From the opening credits on, the production values of Oblivion leap out at you like a scouring deer in the headlights. Fortunately, like with the deer, disaster is averted and the film becomes the hippest blockbuster of the year thus far, maybe even since we saw Ridley Scott bring his A-game in “Prometheus.” It also allows one to reclaim the admiration for Tom Cruise earned through roles in “Top Gun,” “Rain Man” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”
2077: The contingent system is operating smoothly, and the Earth, ravaged by invasion and natural disaster, continues to be patrolled by Jack Harper (Cruise). He’s “Tech 49” whose duty is to patrol the last habitable grids of earth which have been left behind by a human race fleeing to a space station and Saturn’s largest moon. As his days wind down, and he completes maintenance on drones (which are the human race’s last “garrisons” and only protection against left-over alien invaders called “Scavs”) he heads home, thousands of feet in the air, where his partner and lover, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, “Welcome to the Punch”) awaits his arrival.
Repeatedly, this cycle becomes Jack’s familiar routine; that is until a capsule comes crash-landing onto Earth, apparently drawn in from a Scav homing beacon. Investigating the scene, Jack finds that the ship contains human survivors. But as a drone approaches, he is befuddled as it soullessly executes the sleeping survivors. He manages to save one female in “delta sleep,” and coincidentally, she’s the same one Jack has seen over and over again in a distant, grey memory. He cannot pinpoint this flashback though, because six years earlier, the memories of Victoria and Jack had been wiped out, for security purposes. As he looks aghast at the strapping young woman, Julia (Olga Kurylenko, “Seven Psychopaths”), their time to become acquainted is cut short when the Scavs capture both her and Jack.
Tied up and bound to the middle of an underground facility, Jack soon finds out that what he’s come to know is not all that facile and legitimate. An underfoot leader, Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman, “Olympus has Fallen”) pleads for Jack to venture towards the forbidden “radiation zone” to discover the truth. Is Jack’s disenchanted life more fallacy than fact? Is this Julia character really someone from his distant past? What will become of the pillaged planet?
Many of those answers are a bit abstract and actually challenging to answer, becoming a substantial distraction for the film’s overall intentions. However, both the CGI and Tom Cruise carry the weight of Oblivion on their backs, with both being quite effective. And although you’re left second-guessing yourself time and again as events unfold, it’s hard to condemn this film — it’s so damn visually appealing that it is very easy to overlook the farcical plot and its obvious lapses.
In a loud, flashy display cinematographer, Claudio Miranda, and editor, Richard Francis-Bruce, really transport viewers to 2077, where they gauge the deforested, barren landscape and fly along with Cruise in his thruster-propelled ship. Even the moon cast in the distance, ravaged by alien destruction, is realistic looking, enthralling moviegoers and earning Miranda and Francis-Bruce a meritorious pat on the back, well done.
And while many Sci-Fi films tend to bring down your guard during belief suspension (this film being no different), the themes of Oblivion can be salvaged — even from depths of the soil-ridden remnants of New York City skyscrapers. The power of certain scientific capabilities and the millenniums-long idea of a god-complex is deliberated here. Do our seemingly-diminutive actions have serious repercussions for the Earth? Does playing the almighty gradually destruct an entire species? Kosinski’s screenplay at least tries to fly at drone-speed towards these answers.
So the only question remaining is: Do you hold high narrative standards for your films? Or are you fine with being a little confused as a story unfolds and admire a couple hours of visually-appealing, cutting-edge effects? If it’s the latter, grab your keys and go to the theater right now. Oblivion is, as Cruise says intermittently throughout the film, “Another day in Paradise.”