Watching Oblivion, director Joseph Kosinski’s ambitious follow-up to the lackluster Tron: Legacy, it quickly becomes apparent that our definition of an “original” story doesn’t quite mean what it used to. Because while we may not have seen all of the elements that comprise the plot assembled in this particular way before, we’ve most certainly seen a majority of them scattered throughout some of the biggest and most popular sci-fi features of the last few decades. For that reason, a few critics and die-hard genre fans might prefer to credit Kosinski as a “curator” rather than a “director” for his work on this vividly realized movie mash-up, though for others simply willing to go with the flow, Oblivion does offer a satisfying blend of mystery, romance, and action set against an impressively awe-inspiring postapocalyptic backdrop.
In the distant future, Earth has been decimated by an intergalactic battle against an alien race known as the Scavs. The majority of mankind has been evacuated to Jupiter’s moon Titan, leaving just a few solitary drone repairmen remaining on the planet's surface. Their job is simple: stand guard over the ruins of a once-great civilization by patrolling the skies and ensuring that the drones continue to function as massive hydro rigs harvest water from the oceans to help sustain human life on the distant satellite. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are nearing the end of their mission on Earth when Jack witnesses a spacecraft fall from the sky. Investigating the scene of the crash, Jack finds a capsule containing Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a mysterious woman he has seen in his dreams. With mission control monitoring his every move from high up above the clouds, Jack makes yet another shocking discovery that will not only challenge everything he's been taught about mankind's defining battle, but may alter the entire course of human history as well.
In Tron: Legacy, Kosinski had the thankless task of breathing neon life into an uninspired screenplay. With an assured sense of style and striking use of special effects, the first-time feature filmmaker nearly succeeded in making the stagnant story watchable, too. Three years later Kosinski is back, and he’s got his own story to tell. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who kicked off their careers with commercial work before graduating to features, Kosinski appears to have an assured handle on the nuances of long-form storytelling. Alongside co-screenwriters Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn, Kosinski presents a drama with interesting characters and a unique central mystery. So despite the fact that well-read sci-fi fanatics might get distracted while mentally ticking off familiar plot points (Independence Day, Moon) and visual references (2001: A Space Odyssey), the upside is that, derivative as Oblivion may be in many respects, it still manages to hold our attention by presenting compelling ideas about our concept of reality, and prodding our imaginations by avoiding simple answers and explanations. This isn’t to claim that Oblivion is clear of plot holes or questionable science for those joyless wet blankets who live to depress with their astute observational skills, but Kosinski seems to be at his best while toying with broader concepts, rather than focusing on the minutia. Meanwhile, exciting action sequences executed with impressive stylistic flair ensure viewers just seeking a bit of escapism will get their money’s worth as well.
Curiously, for a film of such scope and scale, Oblivion maintains a uniquely intimate tone as Kosinski gradually brings the relationship between Jack and Julia to the forefront of the plot. The two characters share a soulful connection that’s realized convincingly by Cruise and Kurylenko, one that begins to take on added dimensions as their story comes into focus. Riseborough likewise brings a seductive sense of eeriness to her enigmatic character, while Morgan Freeman, in what amounts to little more than a glorified cameo, exists simply to spout exposition. That’s not a crime considering his distinctive voice for doing so, but it’s an enormous waste of talent and precious budget in virtually every other regard.
Landmark science fiction has always been rooted in thought-provoking ideas. If a storyteller is talented enough to fold those ideas into an entertaining plot, the potential for greatness is there. Considering its patchwork qualities, Oblivion may not qualify as “great” science-fiction cinema, but it’s still a big step up from your typical, big-budget Hollywood fare. For a first-time screenwriter and sophomore director, that’s not only a notable accomplishment, but also compelling evidence that the further Kosinski emerges from the shadow of his obvious influences, the more interesting of a filmmaker he will become.
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- Released: 2013
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Watching Oblivion, director Joseph Kosinski’s ambitious follow-up to the lackluster Tron: Legacy, it quickly becomes apparent that our definition of an “original” story doesn’t quite mean what it used to. Because while we may not have seen all of the eleme… (more)