The not too distant future will, apparently, see our world decimated by nuclear warfare, and, no, this isn’t the result of an escalating rhetoric between a superpower and a fat East Asian communist.
Rather, our world will be destroyed defending itself against hordes of hostile aliens called Scavs and life as we know it will cease to exist, but at least we got ’em. This is the premise of the latest Tom Cruise vehicle that sees the aforementioned star play a technician called Jack Harper, who is one of the last remaining people on earth. Harper’s mission (if he chooses to accept it) is repairing robot drones that protect our last remaining resources on the planet. Once his task is complete, he can retire along with his colleague and lover, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) to the giant orbiting space station, The Tet, which contains other survivors. For security purposes, and in true Total Recall style, Harper’s mind has been wiped, but he is haunted by dreams of another life with a different woman (Olga Kurylenko). When a ship with human cargo crash lands on earth, it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem.
It is a release that will creep up on some; it’s neither a big summer tent pole movie nor an awards season flick and has instead been cast out amongst the forgettable spring releases (Hansel and Gretel or G.I. Joe, anyone?) and plot-wise that is where it belongs. It’s an interesting but not unique concept, and as already mentioned, the memory/dream aspect smacks of Total Recall. There are also just too many similarities to other last-man-on-earth and sci-fi epics; Independence Day, Terminator, I Am Legend – they all get a look in.
Visually, this film is stunning, although nothing new. Director Joseph Kosinski’s only other work is Tron: Legacy which, whilst a visual feast, was ultimately starving in the plot department. Ultimately I found Tron a little like a Thornton’s Easter Egg: looks delicious but in the end it was hollow. Oblivion has a little more filling and in this film I actually cared about what happened to the characters. Kosinski again shows a passion for the visuals and presents a world that is rich and inviting despite for the most part being a barren wasteland. The CGI landscapes of sand-encroached New York, destroyed football stadiums and futuristic penthouses (a glass bottom pool in the sky is a must for every apartment) are impressive and certainly challenge the likes of Prometheus. The action scenes whether they be dogfights in the air or gun fights in a bunker are all well shot and engaging. Have no doubts, this is one of the best looking films to come out for quite some time and beats to death with its own broomstick the glaring CGI environments in the recent Oz film. Rather unfortunately the film suffers a bit of a pacing issue half way through but the settings continue at full speed.
Cruise’s usual acting intensity is present, which might put some people off, but against the equally intense backdrop it’s not as startling. He’s believable in the part and you have to give credit to a man who takes roles so seriously. Riseborough has now effectively made the jump from smaller British films (Made in Dagenham, Brighton Rock) to big budget Hollywood flicks and exudes an eerie iciness. She convinces as a woman torn between love and duty. Equally Kurylenko is well cast as a vulnerable love interest. A criminally under-used Morgan Freeman also crops up as a human survivor but is sidelined by Cruise and landscape shots. Who on earth puts More Than Freeman on the bench?!
But does this film stand out enough from other lush sci-fi flicks? Well, no really. It needs that little bit extra to make it stand out. And that’s a shame, as I’d recommend a trip to the cinema to see this, not necessarily watch it. Unfortunately it’s a case of oblivion by name, oblivion by nature; and this is where the film will ultimately end up.