‘Oblivion’: Cruise control

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

‘Oblivion’ takes ideas from science fiction films such as ‘The Matrix’, ‘Total Recall’ and many others, and rams a love triangle into the story that sticks out painfully. Nevertheless, there are some impressive visuals and thought provoking moments, along with an appealing cast. 

After a war with some aliens that left Earth in ruins and the moon in pieces, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a technician/soldier who repairs fallen drones, with the assistance of his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They reside in a condominium-like living unit with its own pool, launchpad and office, and await their return to Titan, where the remainder of humankind reside. When Jack meets a group of rebels led by Beech (Morgan Freeman) and comes upon an escape pod bearing Julia (Olga Kurylenko), he begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself. 

Written and directed by Joseph Kosinski (‘Tron: Legacy’), this science fiction action asks some deep questions about the nature of memory and identity, but coated with mediocre action scenes and characters that are underwritten, it never gets the chance to answer them. 

Koskinski is also a director without much humour, which could have injected some levity into this far too-serious affair. (Cruise spouting one-liners to his bobblehead doesn't quite count). After making the forgettable ‘Tron’ sequel, he hasn't quite redeemed himself here. He shows far more skill with special effects than he does with human actors, particularly when there are emotions at play. 

The story also breaks down under scrutiny. Why do the bad guys do what they do and make decisions so reliant on one person? The story itself is built around Jack, and some of the events come across as being too coincidental or convenient. Furthermore, any science fiction fan will probably see the plot twists coming from a mile away. 

The 51-year old Cruise certainly doesn't look his age. He relies a little much on wincing and scowling here, going through his usual inventory of pre-generated faces to try to beef up the too-long movie. Some of the action scenes in the film are reminiscent of those in his earlier films, such as a dogfight scene that recalls ‘Top Gun’, and a scene where he dangles about on cables that bears similarities to the scene in ‘Mission Impossible’. Victoria is possibly the most complex character in the film and Riseborough plays her with both tenderness and intelligence. Unable to rein Jack in, she has to negotiate and deal with their superiors. But seriously, if you and your partner were the last two people in the world and you worked out of your home, would you bother wearing heels and dress? Wouldn't a loose-t shirt and bunny slippers suffice? 

Oblivion

Former Bond girl Kurylenko does not have to do much except look forlorn, and one wonders why an important plot point about her is not revealed sooner. At least she has more to do compared to Freeman, who comes across as a cross between Laurence Fishburne's Moebius in ‘The Matrix’ and Samuel Jackson's Nick Shield in the ‘Avengers’. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jaime Lannister of ‘Game of Thrones’, is one of the standouts, and makes the most of his brief screen-time as a rebel sniper. 

There are fairly impressive visuals on show here, even if the story is lacking and it never quite explores the philosophical questions that it raises. The movie's main failure is that it orbits too much around Tom Cruise. Filmmakers should realise that Cruise, for all his star power, does not have a gravitational field all his own. 

‘Oblivion’ opens in theatres 11 April 2013



Travis Wong is a film loving geek who got his start from frequenting video shops in JB. He frequented movie theaters more often than school, and received his cinematic epiphany when he watched 'Taxi Driver'. While not driving a cab, he haunts DVD shops, and he currently has the largest remaining collection of VHS tapes and Laserdiscs in the country. 




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