Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Movie Review: Oblivion

Today! The first of three reviews of recent movies, all seen by old Dad thanks to the fact that he's stuck in Albuquerque while Marcus and Mom are down babysitting grandma's house for the week.

I saw Oblivion first, and let me tell you how disappointing it was to see that this had nothing to do with the Elder Scrolls. I kid! It was an awesome movie, but with some caveats. Then I saw Iron Man 3, which is pretty much a given in terms of entertainment value, but as a third movie in the series it did the rare feat of actually being better than the first two. Finally there's the 2013 reboot of Evil Dead, which was...well....let's just say two out of three ain't bad.

I'll review Oblivion first:


I went in to Oblivion knowing it was allegedly a halfway decent original SF film, but also aware of the fact that it had Tom Cruise as the lead character, Jack Harper. I think it took me about twenty minutes to overcome my natural dislike of the man and start really enjoying the film....right around the time I realized that this was a decidedly good old-school SF story, the kind they might have written in the late sixties and early seventies, during the first real "new wave" of SF. Why? Because it's all about Jack, who's the quintessential man's man....had this film actually been done in 1970 we'd probably have seen Charleton Heston in the same role. Seriously.

The plot in a nutshell: Jack Harper, along with his mission aide and significant other Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are assigned to a monitoring post on ruined Earth, where they oversee the safety of massive water collectors/purifiers that refine what is left of Earth's post-apocalyptic oceans and ship it off to Titan, where humanity has (or will be) migrating via the great ship Tet (for tetrahedral). It's about sixty some years after an alien invasion was thwarted, but not before the aliens blew up the moon, and the nuclear retaliation from humanity amid the ensuing chaos of a Lunar death rendered Earth a wasteland.

Amidst all this, Jack serves as a technician, keeping military drones that protect the massive water refineries safe from the "scavs," survivors of the alien army that still live in the radioactive wastelands. Needless to say, Jack has an attachment to Earth, and even as their tour of duty is two weeks from ending, something keeps him from wanting to leave, including strange memories of the world before his time.

This movie is spoiler-laden, but I will divulge none of it; the film is best enjoyed if you go in blind like I did, and you'll definitely get the most out of it that way. That said, here are the pros and cons of the movie without any specific context that would affect your enjoyment of the film:

First, the pros: it's a great looking movie and really brings its world to life. There are lots of little things that help contribute to the mystery underlying the plot, which is exposed gradually to both the audience and Jack in a satisfactory way, and it eventually adds up rather nicely. There are some minor (easily explained/waived) plot holes....and a lot of what seem initially to be plot holes but aren't. Maybe I'll do a spoiler-laden blog about it in detail later.

Jack Reaper, despite being Tom Cruise, still managed to become a decent character in his own right. I was able at some point to forget it was Tom, and that's not easy with his one-act performance.

Morgan Freeman shows up and manages to kick some serious ass. Good stuff.

The film was overall well-paced and surprisingly coherent. They did a good job of creating a future Earth devastated by the loss of the Moon, subject to some very unpleasant stuff.

The Cons: This movie feels like seventies sci fi for a reason; it's very much a male ego trip. Two primary female leads show up in the course of the movie, and both are there to revolve around, Jack's story. Ordinarily this might not be unusual for Summer Hollywood fare, but the truth is that at some point it got a little too obvious that these women were just cyphers for Cruise's...ah., Reaper's masculine destiny. The fact that they were each well-realized but poorly represented characters, waiting for Jack to save them (or not) just got a bit too obvious before the end. On the one hand, I was cool with this....I'm a guy, after all....but on the other hand, this is the twenty-first century, Hollywood. Are you seriously telling me that these two women, one a technically savvy support/comms specialist, and the other a bloody astronaut, had nothing better to do than stand around waiting for Tom to save them? Yeah....right....

Despite the cons, this was a great movie and worth seeing. If you love Tom Cruise then you'll be delighted. Oblivion is a solid A.


  1. Nice review Tori. The movie does suffer from a script that doesn't clearly explain certain things and the storytelling does come off as lazy in parts. Could have been better, had it just decided to take the high road and be a bit more original with itself.

    1. Very true. I plan to follow-up with a spoiler-full analysis next week. There's a lot I'd like to discuss about this movie but only with those who have seen it already; this is one of those films where half the enjoyment is in discovering it fresh; I think I'd have enjoyed it a lot less if the big reveals were all made known to me before hand. That said, the plot holes and story issues are all more or less tied into the second post-reveal act.