Oblivion (2013)

[Note from the editor: The Agony Booth is currently conducting a search for new article writers. This review was submitted by prospective staff writer Steven Patsel. Feel free to sound off in the comments to let us know what you think of his review!]

Oblivion is Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi movie that isn’t Tron: Legacy, set in your typical post-apocalyptic future. This time, the premise is that everyone abandoned Earth after some war that no one remembers, because they all have amnesia. Tom Cruise plays the nondescript main character Jack Harper (not to be confused with Jack Reacher, an equally bland character also portrayed by Cruise), who must remain behind on Earth to repair drones that watch over some kind of water-extracting machines. Basic stuff.

Oblivion (2013)

Right off the bat, we’ve got the whole “forced memory wipe” cliché, which is a step above “amnesia for no reason at all”, at least, but still not all that thrillingly original. And much like an amnesiac, you’ll embark on an adventure that’s all too familiar, and by the end you’ll have forgotten it all anyway.

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The first half of the movie has great atmosphere. I’m a sucker for desolated, ruinous places, and the beginning of the movie managed to pique my interest long enough to keep me from wanting to turn it off immediately. The visuals of the movie are one of its few strong points; it truly looked like a deserted Earth, with all the ruins and discarded buildings everywhere, all shiny and science-y. Jack’s hideout was also pretty cool, and helped reinforce his feelings of isolation, but alas, feelings of emptiness are about the only thing the movie does well.

Oblivion (2013)

Also adding to the strong atmosphere were the sound effects, with the drones making sounds that tickled the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s not often such a seemingly insignificant part of a movie affects me so. Although, I’m not sure the sound design being one of the more memorable aspects of the movie is a good or bad thing. The musical score, what little I remember of it, was pretty good as well, and certainly better than the movie deserved.

Unfortunately, my praise tapers off from there, thanks to the jaded lens through which I usually view sci-fi movies. Oblivion is wholeheartedly a mediocre movie. Which isn’t to say that it’s awful, but just that in terms of the sci-fi genre, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. And the parts where it does try to be “innovative” either fall short, or come off as contrived and ham-fisted.

Take, for instance, the big reveal that Jack is part of a mind-bending clone scheme. Admittedly, I didn’t see that coming, but therein lies the problem. When it’s first presented, it comes off as so jarring and abrupt that the intended reaction of “Whoa!” becomes more like “Are you kidding me?” On top of that, it isn’t really that new or interesting of a concept, and only ends up on the significantly large heap of unimaginative sci-fi devices that Oblivion is so fond of.

The other plot twists could be spotted from a mile away, and that’s most definitely due to the writing. The script gives us clues that aren’t very subtle, and are repeated often, as if to say “Did you get that?” Eventually, the movie becomes little more than a contest to see how much of the currently established plot and setting can get upturned. Basically, in two words, it’s dumb.

Speaking of silly and absurd plots, Jack mentions that the moon was destroyed during the war, causing massive tsunamis that wrecked the coasts. Interestingly enough, I had previously looked into the implications of destroying the moon (don’t ask), and as it turns out, the destruction of the moon would probably result in calmer seas, not raging tsunamis. That said, it would still be a devastating event. For some reason, I had a problem with that, but I digress.

The movie also resorts to using the same crutch a lot of subpar movies these days seem to employ: Morgan Freeman. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy, but it seems to me that a lot of mediocre directors think that if they just add Morgan-Freeman-in-a-can to their movie, it’ll go from bland to fantastic in the blink of an eye. But not even a great actor can save a bad script.

Oblivion (2013)

As if it weren’t already obvious from the beginning that Oblivion is a cliché rollercoaster, the movie jumps from one try-hard twist to another in a vain attempt to be profound, and is only held together by thin strings of poorly constructed plot and minimal character interaction. There are initially only two characters, neither of whom are particularly interesting, and then a few more show up to move the story along, and the plot is boring and has been done before. A movie with only a few characters and not much dialogue can be done well, but Kosinski clearly isn’t able to pull it off effectively.

The characters themselves are also considerably unlikable, with most of them coming off like hollowed-out robots (for one reason or another) with only one task in mind that they must see through to completion. This makes the romantic subplots even more laughable.

Oblivion (2013)

The movie takes itself too seriously for what it’s presenting: a mish-mash of sci-fi tropes and plot devices in a pretty wrapper. Jack’s final line on the Tet space station was clearly intended to resonate with audiences and leave them awestruck, or at the very least make Jack seem cool, but it has the opposite effect, coming across as juvenile and forced. There’s also the introduction of a book that Jack finds, for no other reason than so he can spout off pseudo-intellectual nonsense while the movie comes to an end.

Oblivion is an empty corpse dressed up in an assortment of antiquated clothes. It could be said that the movie is a classic case of style over substance, but the only reason the style part is regarded so highly is that there’s not much to compare it to. The movie is too serious for its own good, and its amalgamation of overdone plots makes the movie seem like Kosinksi’s fan-fiction of the whole sci-fi genre.

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  • I am fine with this because I agree with most of it.
    However, I too strangely was researching what would happen if the moon was gone. Also for reasons that should not be discussed. Anyway, while the moon’s absence would result in gentler variations on tides the moon has another effect on the Earths crust, its tidal effects gentle jostle the tectonic plates allowing them to move against each other in smaller, less catastrophic, burst of tension.
    In other words the moon disappearing would initially result in sift tides, but then the earth’s crust would start to periodically burst and we would start to have tsunamis at regular intervals all over the world.

    • Also, Also,
      This movie is in a horse race with “World War Z” for dumbest movie I watched all year. Why in god’s name would you need a clone army of astronauts when you have an entire fleet of flying killer robots? Flying killer robots are what the US military regards as the holy grail of warfare technology, it is why drones are such a popular means of terrorism killing. And how did the alien satellite have the means to produce human clones? Did it produce clone armies on previous worlds it has harvested? Then who built it originally? And aren’t there dozens of Tom Cruises all over the world then?

      And then there is the casting, why are both actresses 20 years younger than Cruise? It is kind of creepy. Maybe if Channing Tatum was playing Jack, and it had a lighter tone like you mentioned. Though most of the humor in the movie was probably at the behest of Cruise who likes to throw gags into his roles as a means of characterization.

      • Aaron Mitchell

        I would say that they used and them the same way the army does, the Tet likely depends on the clones because the drones aren’t that bright, they’d probably have difficulty with enclosed spaces and it’s got to be rather demoralising to have a national hero come out in droves to slaughter you. The alien AI’s even ‘Sally’ all appear rather limited and rather specialised, presumably it was programmed to make use of any sapient beings to make up for its own shortcomings.That being said it’s all guesswork and Fanon, which the film really should have explained itself.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    As for the review, the problem with reviewing a mediocre film is that everyone assumes that since you didn’t love it with every fiber of your being you 1) hated it and 2) don’t give enough reasons for your blinding all consuming hate. Everything on the internet must be either bestest ever or most horrible ever. Strong opinions are what sells page views no matter how well thought out or irrational. Actually irrational does very well for itself on the internet.

    Frankly I remember seeing this same sort of story in old Outer Limits episodes… more than once. Plot contrivance is what drives big budget movies nowadays as they mindlessly lurch from one effects scene to the next and what we see in Oblivion is the result – bland. They do slightly better when the characters or settings have well established characteristics/personalities beyond what the film presents, which is why they always set sci-fi on Earth with humans, but the current writing style is death for original stories,settings and characters. In short while Oblivion is not bad it is why we can’t have nice things. Nothing is helped that Cruise’s career was built on his pretty boy looks and only now in his later years is he trying to act with very inconsistent results.

    It also illustrates one reason why TV is doing so much better at presenting new ideas – the stakes are lower.

  • eh

    to the best of my knowledge it was based on a comic book. not sure if was better than the movie. imo the movie was paper thin like star wars. sometimes simple isnt bad.

  • Muthsarah

    I thought this was a pretty good review. Not especially humorous (which I imagine it must be the hardest thing in the world to be), but straight-forward, without spoiling too much. It’s not a recap, so it doesn’t have to go too deeply into details, scratching the surface is plenty for one page. I haven’t seen the movie, nor was I even remotely interested in it (as if I didn’t already have a problem with Cruise, I too thought adding Freeman seemed wrong somehow), and I already knew the twist, but I wonder if a spoiler warning would have been appropriate.

    I’d like to see the reviewer swing for the fences and cover something either goofy or controversial next time.