Oblivion (2013) a (mildly) belated review

The ever energetic (39 actor credits since 1981, many if not most of them starring roles…does the guy ever rest!?) Tom Cruise is Jack Harper in the sci-fi action adventure/mindbender Oblivion.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski of Tron: Legacy fame, a film that despite some beautiful visuals, I didn’t like.  Oblivion, in my opinion, features both better visuals and a far, far better story than Tron: Legacy.  But are both elements enough to recommend the film itself?

…yeah…with some reservations.

For much of the first half, Oblivion is a two person drama.  Jack and his companion Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the last two humans on Earth.  Sixty years before, we are told by Jack in the opening narration, the Earth faced alien invaders that, in the ensuing war, destroyed the Moon before being defeated.  Because of this destruction and subsequent radical change in gravity, Earth’s environment was wrecked and the planet rendered uninhabitable.  The human survivors moved on to a Moon in Saturn and it is Jack and Victoria’s job to watch over massive machines left behind sucking all the water from the planet to make energy to take to those off-world survivors.

With me so far?

Ok, so Jack and Victoria live on this isolated and very elegant “home” and Jack goes out now and again in a cool aircraft to check up on the machines and fix whatever is broken while avoiding the “scabs” left over planet side, apparently alien machines still fighting the war that ended so many years before.

During this section of the film we are also informed that Jack and Victoria have received “memory wipes”, though it is never made clear why this was deemed necessary (one of the film’s many small writing glitches, IMHO).  Nonetheless, Jack starts having vague memories of being with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) in pre-apocalypse New York and on top of the Empire State Building.

How are these memories possible if Earth was destroyed over sixty years before?

As far as the story description, and for the sake of not getting into any spoilers, I’ll stop there.  Suffice it to say, the mystery of Jack’s memory as well as that of the scabs serve to propel the film’s plot along.  The trailer, presented below, does spoil more than a little of these mysteries so if you know nothing at all about the film and want to be surprised, you may want to avoid it.

Having said that, Oblivion starts off and moves along quite well for this first half and a little beyond…well into many of its subsequent revelations.  However, there does come a point where all this plot and information -and mild to large improbabilities- threaten to derail the film.

Without giving too much away these are some of the things that bothered me:  Why is it so difficult for Jack to talk -to actually have a conversation- with Victoria?  Why is she so different from him, memory-wise (Wouldn’t it have been intriguing if she, like him, had some odd memories popping up in her head)?  Why were Jack and Victoria -two people!- even necessary on the planet, given the ultimate revelations?  Toward the film’s climax and conclusion, why was it necessary, other than to create some suspense for the viewers, for Jack to place person X into a cryogenic chamber before flying off?

These are just off the top of my head.  And while there is some damage to the overall film, it isn’t bad enough to invalidate and destroy it.  I do wish the movie could have been simplified rather than made progressively more and more complicated.  At one point, it felt like I was watching a season’s worth of a sci-fi series rather than a movie.

Despite this, I recommend Oblivion.  Just be aware that sometimes less is more.