Even if the weather refuses to admit it, we’re in the thick of spring now, and there’s no better indicator of that than the sudden ramping up of major studio releases that are starting to populate the local theaters. The first capital-B blockbuster of the year hits theaters today: Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion. Unfortunately, it’s a studio tent pole through and through, a film reeking of studio notes and script-rewrites. It’s all rounded edges and dulled points – the cinematic equivalent of plastic cutlery. The problems are there from the get-go, as we spend the film following Jack (Tom Cruise, doing Tom Cruise things) on his journey from being a heroic devil-may-care guardian of our ravaged planet to being a heroic devil-may-care savior of our ravaged planet. Along with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough in the only performance in the film that lands emotionally) they maintain a vigilant watch over the irradiated landscape, protecting the drones and devices that harvest vital resources from our planet from the Scavs, the alien race that led to our planet’s untimely destruction. Jack’s mission is compromised when he saves a young woman (Olga Kurylenko) from a downed spacecraft, and meets an underground resistance led by Beech (Morgan Freeman) which leads him to believe the mission has never been quite what he thought it was.
Kosinski has the ability to make a picture epic in scope; of this there’s no doubt. If you plan to see this film, see it on the biggest screen possible, so as to revel in the film’s immersive landscapes and stunning set design. He also has quite the eye for shot composition, and I believe he is capable of shepherding a great work of science fiction onto the big screen. Unfortunately this picture is definitely not it. While the visuals dazzle, the story cribs from numerous sources (a little Wall*E, a sprig of Matrix, a healthy dose of Moon) without ever carving out a place for itself – a more apt title would’ve been Now That’s What I Call Sci-Fi Volume 16. In terms of performances, I found it strange the person Tom Cruise showcased the best chemistry with was himself, and the emotional anchor that is the relationship between him and Kurylenko’s Julia falls completely and utterly flat. And Kosinski continues the distressing trend of taking uniquely talented musical artists (previously Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy and Anthony Gonzalez of M83 here) and having them create cookie cutter Hans Zimmer-lite scores for his pictures.
As much as I’d like to encourage you to check out this picture – a big budget, original sci-fi not based on a comic book or ancillary property is worth celebrating – there’s very little for me to recommend here. Kosinski has now proven himself doubly capable of creating gorgeously rendered sci-fi settings for his movies. Now he just has to work on populating them with characters the audience will give a damn about. Mere days after the fact, Oblivion is already being consigned to its namesake in my mind, a pedestrian Twilight Zone-riff neither action-packed mor thought-provoking enough to justify its existence.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Written by: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date: April 19, 2013