Oblivion is not a good movie. What a waste of money and time this was. I gather that the film was based on a graphic novel, but come to find out, that’s not really true. Rather, this claim was just studio hype to capitalize on the graphic novel trend.
Oblivion tells the story of a man and woman, isolated on a post-nuclear Earth, serving as the only two people harvesting natural resources to send to the Tet, a spaceship where Earth’s refugees await transport to a developing colony on Titan, Saturn’s moon. Jack (Tom Cruise) and Vicka (Andrea Riseborough) live in an apartment/control center floating in the clouds, with a lovely modern design and cutting-edge technology. During the day, Jack maintains the drones that harvest the water needed for the colonists. When the drones go down (as they often do), he has to travel to the surface, risking confrontation with the Scavs, shadowy technologically-backwards enemies who use terror techniques to fight against the humans and their colonies. Vicka serves as mission control, alerting Jack to activity in his area, and tracking the effectiveness of the drones from her command center. At night, Vicka and Jack enjoy a nice quiet domestic life in their high-rise apartment.
But all is not as it seems, of course. Jack has a secret rebellious side that he hides from by-the-book Vicka. He clings to the memory of the pre-war days, taking time alone in a secret green valley to reminisce about those times. On one of his maintenance trips to the surface, Jack gets curious about what is causing the recent increase in drone breakdowns. Upon investigating, he begins to find that what he and Vicka are being told by command (the voice of Melissa Leo) might not be the entire story. He has questions about the restricted areas, which he is told are too radioactive for humans. He witnesses a drone destroy what seem to be old human transports, managing to save one survivor, the lovely Julia (Olga Kurylenko). The storyline from this point is just a soulless playing out of the script, where we and the characters know all the plot moves before they happen, trudging towards an ending. There is little for the actors to do, and even they seem bored by the numerous plot “twists.”
The script, I considered, may be making a political comment about how Obama’s drone program is destroying the interests of those it was set up to protect, but the plot doesn’t really work in that sense. I considered the writers may have been commenting on the way we Earthlings harvest our resources to our ultimate detriment, but that too, doesn’t work in the context of the film. With this seed of a story, there were so many opportunities to make a meaningful statement about something (anything!), but the director (Joseph Kosinski) and writers (Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt) don’t seem to be too interested, preferring to water this world down into bland action-film set-pieces and pretty but meaningless CGI panoramas.
Ah, the characters. Morgan Freeman plays the classic Magical Negro role, a complete waste of his talent. All the women are categorized as evil, useless or stupid. Julia, despite clearly being strong and determined, is sabotaged (for her own good) and made into a housewife at the film’s end. I’m certainly not a militant feminist, but the filmmakers could have benefitted from a strong female voice.
In many ways , the film is a retread of several more popular and successful movies that came before it. Vicka and Jack’s base is not just reminiscent of Lando Calrissian’s City in the Sky, the landing platform looks exactly the same. There are fighter chase scenes that mimic Star Wars almost exactly. The Scavs are copies of Predator in both the appearance of their heads, the way they communicate, and their stealth nature, with a little bit of Tusken Raider mixed in there. It must have been an incredibly boring movie to make, and I suspect most was done in front of a green screen and filled in later.
As with any good action movie, Oblivion provides an ending with an out in case a sequel is required. Here’s hoping that won’t be necessary.