Oblivion (2013) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : It’s derivative, but it looks good anyway

small_oblivion07After grumbling about “Oblivion” to my lab colleagues right after the afternoon screening at the local theater today, I thought about how easily I could rate this derivative SF film. As a matter of fact, it is so derivative that all I have to do is just quoting well-known SF movies as many as possible in my review, and they will automatically be the standards for justifying my rating in the last paragraph of the review.

However, before complaining about its derivative aspects, I must admit that there are some fabulous sights in “Oblivion”. Its background is another classic case of the post-apocalyptic landscape on the Earth, and its story is packed with many familiar elements borrowed from other SF stories and films, but the visual splendor shown during the first half of the film was engaging enough to hold my interest. It soars with beautiful images for a while, but then it descends into standard action mode, and it finally arrives at the problematic ending which may baffle you a bit for its plot holes.

It is 2077, and, according to our hero Jack Harper(Tom Cruise), the humanity had a massive war with the aliens suddenly invading to the Earth sixty years ago. The war is over and the humans survive with victory, but the Earth becomes the radioactive wasteland not suitable for living while the moon is revolving around the Earth in a shattered form(but it certainly looks fantastic on the sky during night and day, anyway).

With his co-worker Victoria(Andrea Riseborough), Jack has been doing a pretty mundane job for quite a long time. As ordered and instructed from the big space station high above the atmosphere, they routinely check the massive machines which seem to somehow extract the energy from sea water in their area(the movie does not explain a lot about how that is possible), and they are well assisted by the numerous flying drones whose design is probably inspired by those space pods in “2001: A Space Odyssey”(1968). Whenever it is necessary, these drones are ready to terminate anything on their sights with their powerful lethal weapons.

small_oblivionJack and Victoria have been living in the station which looks like a new glassy modern house, and it is placed so high above the ground that you can see cloud sea sometimes at this place. It does not look particularly safe to live, and I think I will need some time for second thought before deciding to move into this place, but it is certainly cool to watch outside during sunrise or sunset at this place.

It is apparent that they are more than the partners in work. They look like a couple when they are together, but they do not know much about each other well except that they have the mission to be carried out. Their personal memories are erased as a safety measure(don’t expect any reasonable explanation on that), and they only know that the mission will be over after two weeks and then they will go to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn where surviving human beings settle after the war.

While Victoria, who is affectionately called “Vica” by Jack, has been yearning for going to Titan, Jack has a different idea. He has a private secret place hidden from detection, and it is surely not a bad place to live for the rest of his live. The trees and other plants grow well, and the water looks clean, and there is also a cabin where he keeps many things from the human civilization in the past. Watching this place, I could not help but think of the main robot character of the Pixar animation “Wall-E”(2008), which also actively collects the remnants from human society while doing its job alone on the contaminated Earth.

Their daily routine is disrupted when a space module suddenly crashes into the Earth. Jack manages to save a woman named Julia(Olga Kurylenko) at the crash site, and he instantly recognizes her because she is the woman he has kept seeing in his recurring dream. Julia also seems to recognize him, but she tells very little about how they know each other.

small_oblivion05Now I have to be a little more careful about describing the plot. We see that there are still the enemies moving around the ground, and it seems they are planning something as occasionally sabotaging Jack and Victoria’s mission. When the character played by Morgan Freeman appears in front of Jack, you will instantly realize the things are not what they seem to be on the surface.

The director/co-screenplay writer Joseph Kosinski previously directed “Tron: Legacy”(2010). It was a visually enjoyable work despite notable flaws, and the same thing can be said about this movie. With his crew including the cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who recently won an Oscar for “Life of Pi”(2012), Kosinski provides several visually splendid moments as the movie flies and looks around its wide and stark post-apocalyptic world, and they deserve to be appreciated on the big screen. CGI in the film always looks convincing, so we can believe the characters really inhabit their future world.

But still, the story is bland compared to its good visuals. Mainly due to its familiarity, it is easy to predict what will be revealed or what will happen next, and, for instance, it does not require 10 seconds to know what will be shown in the certain scene in which Jack comes to discover that he is not the only dude working around the Earth. The pace becomes frequently languid especially during the third act, and the finale is as simple-minded as that of “Independence Day”(1996).

small_oblivion04Tom Cruise does a fairly good job here as the hero who comes to know more than he wants, but most of his co-performers merely play the functional roles in the story. Andrea Riseborough has some emotional scenes to handle, but her character remains two-dimensional, and Olga Kurylenko is also wasted due to a similar problem. Morgan Freeman appears less than you expect in his paycheck role(but he does what is required for his role), and Melissa Leo is efficient in what could have been a thankless job.

As I said above, “Oblivion” reminded me of many other SF movies I have seen before, and my mind still keeps finding other ones even at this point. You will probably not waste your ticket money with this movie, and there are worse films out there in theaters, but I am rather reluctant to recommend it to you. When I watched “Prometheus”(2012) last year, I experienced awe from its alien world, and I admired its reach for greatness even though it half-succeeded in the end. In case of “Oblivion”, I only observed a well-made product ready to be sold to the audiences – and I wanted to move on to better things.

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