Oblivion

Good sci-fi movies tend to be a hairsbreadth from greatness, just missing the mark by an intangible something. Maybe it's plot related, or maybe it has to do with the writing, direction, or acting. Oblivion suffers from this curse of intangible flaws. It was a good sci-fi movie that fell just short of greatness.

Glossy and visually stunning, this was definitely a movie for the senses. From unique space ships, to floating glass-enclosed mansions in the sky, this was a beautiful movie. I think there was a good balance between the special effects and the story. In a way, the effects were a tool of the story, which is always a good thing. Yet, I wonder if maybe the freedom of today's special effects had a slightly detrimental effect on the story as well. Some of the things that we were shown were a product of what could be shown, and that mild excess didn't do the complicated plot any favors.

To put it another way, this was a twisty movie. There were several reveals, all of which worked within the structure of the narrative, but none of them were particularly surprising. I don't know if that was the nature of the story, that they set things up well enough so that nothing came out of left field, or if those reveals were so predictable that calling them twists is generous. That isn't to say the plot is bad or even unoriginal, just a bit too familiar -- if that makes sense. I could feel the influences of The Matrix, Blade Runner, Independence Day, Planet of the Apes, Wall-E, Robocop, and even an obscure episode of The Twilight Zone throughout. Even though there were very few direct homages.

There was some very neat stuff, including this sort of jet/helicopter that Tom Cruise (Jack Harper) flies around in that was extremely cool to look at. The main bad guys were these humanoid creatures with glowing orange eyes that definitely had a creepy factor. Also there were these drones that were fascinating -- they were kind of like a combination of the ED-209 robots from Robocop and E-VA from Wall-E.

Beyond the plot and the visuals, there were some really decent performances. Tom Cruise was his usual likeable self. He didn't really stretch beyond his normal action hero persona too much, but he was easy to identify with. Olga Kurylenko (Julia) was beautiful and sympathetic as a woman displaced from time (she crash lands on earth in a cryo-sleep capsule, having lost 60 years of her life). Morgan Freeman was also his usual self, playing a wise leader of a group of human survivors that Jack encounters during his journey.

For me, though, the real standout performance was Andrea Riseborough (Victoria). She plays Jack's love interest and work mate, and added some real depth and charm to a subtle role. It was never clear exactly what was going on with Victoria until it was revealed towards the end, and I loved the ambiguity in her performance. I'm not entirely sure if there was any romantic chemistry between her character and Jack, but that might have been intentionally done to add a sense of unease and tension.

Whether or not this film delivered anything more than a fun experience is almost irrelevant because it tried to be original and that's something you don't see a lot of in big budget movies nowadays. Still, as far as sci-fi movies go, this was definitely worth the price of admission. But I doubt it will end up as more than a blip in the memories of its audience. At least it's diverting, gorgeous, well acted, and not completely nonsensical. There are a lot of movies that wish they could be so competently made.

Overall, I liked it, and recommend it. 3 out of 4 Jetcopters.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.

5 comments:

CrazyCris said...

I've been on the fence about this one for a while now... but you've convinced me to give it a try JD! :o)

Nadim said...

Just got back from watching it and I liked it quite a bit. It wasn't perfect, but I thought the film looked pretty darn GORGEOUS, and I was suitably intrigued by the concepts of identity and memories that were explored throughout.

Honestly JD, I was very shocked by the film's various twists. I actually found the movie quite confusing and had to read everything on Wikipedia to make sense of it!

Nevertheless, a very intriguing movie to be sure. And I'm fascinated by how likeable Tom Cruise still is even with all the hoopala surrounding his public persona the last few years.

Nadim said...

And seriously who else wants that mansion in the sky?????? And THAT POOL! My lord...

celticmarc said...

Lukewarm reviews here and there BUT I know it will be a visual Treat. I wasn't inspired much by Tron Legacy's story BUT sure can watch it ten times in a row....so beautiful....

celticmarc said...

Went this afternoon, the Imax version.

Wow ! what a house ! (oh ya, the pool too)
Wow ! what a neat uniform (Jack's)
Wow ! what a cool jet/chopper. I wanna take flying lessons and fly one of those !

And plenty of smiles...when I saw....Jaime Lannister's future self...

Just like Tron Legacy : visually stunning but story wise, not adding another "wow". Beautiful, beautiful, so beautiful. Awesome musical score also.