Oblivion Review: Tom Cruise Tackles Sci-Fi

Oblivion Review: Tom Cruise Tackles Sci-FiOne would be hard pressed to find someone in their late 20’s to mid-40’s that the Sci-Fi film genre hasn’t had a huge impact on. We were a generation that was literally raised on it. I feel this has also made my generation all the more cynical towards modern Sci-Fi, of which there have been some worthwhile contributions. This year is loaded with promising endeavors into the genre, ranging from Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim to Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium to Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Not to mention a little film just around the block called Star Trek: Into Darkness. Leading off this stacked Sci-Fi 2013 is the sophomore effort from director Joseph Kosinski and starring Tom Cruise, Obilivion.

Oblivion takes place in the year 2077. Years prior, Earth was decimated in an attack by an alien race known as Scavengers, or “Scavs.” These Scavs attacked Earth and destroyed the moon, rendering much of the Earth uninhabitable and useless. Something that does remain intact is an ocean body which is protected by a two person crew, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Jack is a technician of sorts. He is often maintaining and repairing the team’s companion drones as well as surveying the surrounding areas for Scavs. Victoria serves as a sort of mission control communications officer, relaying missions and coordinates to Jack whilst keeping in contact with Sally (Melissa Leo), an outside contact from Titan that keeps the pair in line and on task.

Oblivion Review: Tom Cruise Tackles Sci-Fi

Unlike Victoria, who is very always “by the book” and mission focused, there’s something different about Jack. He has a longing for what Earth once was. Despite specific orders not to, he’s willing to preserve a lone flower or rescue a tattered book. He is filled with nostalgia for a life he never had a chance to live. He also has dreams of another life that haunt him with familiarity.

While doing his daily rounds, Jack starts to notice something peculiar with the Scavs. During a routine search for a disabled drone, Jack stumbles upon a beacon, presumably set up by the Scavs, which is sending out coordinates off planet. It’s not long before a rouge craft crashes into Earth containing a passenger (Olga Kurylenko) that sets off a chain reaction of discovery for Jack; causing him to question everything he has known to be true and to seek out what’s really going on.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Oblivion is the way that it manages to nail this sense of familiarity while still being entertaining. Part of this is to do with Tom Cruise who, despite being quite effective in the film, can’t help but be Tom Cruise. That honestly works for his character quite well, though, as it plays into one of Jack’s particular narrative traits.

Oblivion Review: Tom Cruise Tackles Sci-Fi

The other aspect is the film’s influences which Oblivion proudly wears on its sleeves. Each moment of reference somehow still manages to elicit that call back as well as come off as part of the film’s own vision and never feels like the rip off parade it could have easily descended into. There’s a narrative element to Oblivion that I immediately picked up on that led me back to a particular modern Sci-Fi film that I love. I won’t name the film as it would surely give the plot device away but I was pleasantly surprised when Oblivion went about it in a somewhat different way.

For a big budget Sci-Fi/Action film, Oblivion manages to embed some character development and heart into its proceedings, which also help it stand out above the rest. Something as simple as giving the drones a hint of personality goes such a long way in believing about and caring for this world that the film is set in. The film effortlessly manages to make you care about its characters and become invested in its story beats which adds a bit of gravitas to the final act.

For only his second feature, director Joseph Kosinski has done a phenomenal job with Oblivion. Based on an unpublished graphic novel that he wrote, this was obviously a work of love for the director and it shows. He has one of the world’s biggest movie stars in Cruise, but manages to bring him down to Earth just a bit and make him at least a tad less Cruise-y, which is quite a feat.

Oblivion Review: Tom Cruise Tackles Sci-Fi

The film is also a feast for the eyes and ears. It’s a cinematic tour de force with some staggering design that makes a post-apocalyptic Earth seem downright beautiful. Accompanying the visuals is an immersive and engrossing sound design, punctuated by a phenomenal score provided by the band M83. (Side note: This score will have a limited vinyl release on April 26th from Mondo. It features newly created artwork by artist Killian Eng. Look for it next week at Mondotees.com)

I don’t want you to think that Oblivion is a perfect film. It has its fair share of questionable decisions and plot issues, but it manages to be so engaging and downright fun that I didn’t care about nitpicking it to death. It’s more than refreshing to see a film manage to be smart and entertaining and carry it the whole way through, and Oblivion does just that. It’s the kind of film that we would put on a pedestal if we were kids seeing it for the first time. It’s not as legendary as many of those films of our youth nor would it exist without them. Thankfully the creative powers behind the film are aware of that fact and manage to imbue the viewer with a sense of nostalgia and familiarity alongside their own personal creativity that feels genuine and, most importantly, exciting.

Oblivion is rated PG-13 and opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, April 19.

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