America the beautiful
Set in a hypothetical future America of gorgeous destruction, Oblivion delivers amazing effects, but a just decent story.
When I first saw previews for Oblivion, I didn’t think it would follow in Inception’s or Looper’s footsteps in being a film with incredible action scenes that are outshined only by its mind-bending plot twists. And I was right, it didn’t. The film’s story (which supposedly “borrows” elements from many other sci-fi movies, but we won’t talk about that) is a great idea executed poorly. Still, the picture focuses on personal sentimentality brought by a war rather than the futuristic, CGI-reliant ticket-selling war itself, and the risk is a refreshing reminder that action movies can have equally entertaining moments of calm, too.
Not to detract from the film’s action scenes. Rationed rather than overused but still effective, the action scenes travel in whirlwinds spinning 900 miles an hour with stray lasers, explosions and rockets swirling in the computer generated debris. One of the highlights is exploring a post-apocalyptic America (vaguely recognizable by several half-standing famous monuments) in Tom Cruise’s sleek Bubble Ship (the blueprints for which were found discarded next to a leftover Star Wars prop storage unit). Cruise excels at action scenes, as always, and is at his dependable level of solid but not spectacular acting (not that the script calls for an award-winning performance).
The film lugs its story in front of the action, though. Not yet tired of the name Jack, Cruise plays Jack Harper, one of the very last people stationed on the battle ravaged earth to help clean it up. Earth as we know it has been obliterated and rendered mostly unlivable by a species of aliens known as Scavs. Jack and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) live as an “effective team” in a confusingly luxurious house floating in the sky. Every day Jack Reaches down to Earth to make sure the droids (basically spherical R2D2s with more lasers and less charm) continue to bring Earth’s few remaining resources to the Tet, human’s last standing space station.
When a spacecraft filled with human passengers crashes into Earth, Jack immediately recognizes the woman he saves (Olga Kurylenko) as the woman from the mysterious dreams he’s been having. Soon Jack realizes that even after the Earth has been destroyed, there are still many mysteries to figure out about the planet and the species that once inhabited it.
Accompanying the heavy story is a broad display of special effects beautiful in detail and depressing in subject. Old skyscrapers are now cracked and leaning in awkward angles as a waterfall rushes between them. The grand Empire State Building now serves as nothing more than a host some sort of control unit for the droids. A ramshackle bridge with beautiful arches (that doesn’t look like it belongs in a post-apocalyptic New York City, though my knowledge of bridge locations could be rusty) lies half-smashed into the ground. The hauntingly beautiful scenery of the film tells the story better than the script can.
The film struggles to find solid footing between its moments of supersonic action and story-building serenity. Nonetheless, it still manages to entertain, and may even toss out a few surprises along the way. It plays with a self-assuredness that helps the audience believe the story and wows with impressive effects. America looks great for a country that had just been detonated to smithereens.