Oblivion (Universal Pictures, PG-13)

oblivion 65There are many twists and turns along the way. The problem is, try as I might, I didn’t care about any of them.


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There’s a lot to like about Oblivion. Visually, it’s a marvel. The post-apocalyptic imagery is not particularly original, but it’s rendered very well. The director, Joseph Kosinski, made Tron: Legacy, which everyone hated despite the fact that it was kind of great. One of the things I loved most about that film was the amazing world Kosinski was able to build, and he’s done it again here. I’d also like to give credit to the fact that he focuses very strongly on the human aspect of the story. The tech is all very cool, but Oblivion spends a lot of time developing the characters, and the actors do well in their roles. I have a lot of goodwill for this movie, but that can’t overpower the fact that it’s irredeemably boring.

While Oblivion is an “original” story, not based on an existing property, it’s really just a huge melting pot of ideas from other movies. Apparently, aliens attacked earth and humanity responded by dropping a whole bunch of nukes. They won the war, but the planet was left uninhabitable. Now, all of humanity lives in a giant pyramid that floats above earth’s atmosphere, the only exception being a small, two-person crew that remains on earth. Despite the fact that Tom Cruise has one of those annoying expositional voiceovers in the opening scene, I still don’t know exactly what he is doing there. Some have said that he’s the human equivalent of Wall-E, but from what I can tell, he seems more like the guy who repairs Wall-E when Wall-E breaks down. The fact that I don’t understand his job immediately makes it hard for me to engage with the story.

Of course, there’s more to the story than that. Cruise has recurring dreams of a strange woman he doesn’t know (Olga Kurylenko, who is also in To the Wonder, also currently in theaters). There are revelations about the radiated zone he is forbidden to explore. Do you think maybe the huge corporation he works for has some ulterior motives? There are many twists and turns along the way; none are original, but some are unexpected. The problem is, try as I might, I didn’t care about any of them.

Almost all of the action in the film involves these drones that Cruise works on. They are basically large, white balls that shoot lasers at anything that isn’t Tom Cruise. They look believably like something Apple would make, and the fact that they are drones dispatched to kill makes them at least a little politically relevant—yet they make the action scenes incredibly dull. I thought I was tired of robots fighting each other, but when a set piece is basically just a flurry of white balls and laser beams, there’s really nowhere to focus—and no reason to focus, either.

I hate knocking this movie, because its heart is in the right place and it’s really well made. I think Joseph Kosinski is one great script away from making something truly special. The problem is, if you’ve only ever seen two sci-fi movies, they’re both probably referenced in Oblivion. It’s only two hours long, but it feels like three, and I know I’m not the only one to feel that way. I wanted so bad to be able to champion this movie, but it just isn’t good enough to recommend. | Sean Lass

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