An alien invasion of Earth. This concept has long been a staple of science fiction movies, books, TV shows, and videogames. From Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) to Independence Day (1996) to the TNT show Falling Skies (2010- present), mankind has been fending off invaders from other worlds, often with disastrous results for the planet, even if mankind triumphed. And what happens when we win the war against these extraterrestrial aggressors at the cost of having to leave our home planet? That question is just one of the concepts featured in the sci-fi flick Oblivion, the second feature film from director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy). Based on his own graphic novel, Oblivion offers an original look at this familiar tale, with some stunning visuals, a strong cast, and a good script with a few twists. It does get very familiar in its third act (one scene immediately brings a similar one from Independence Day to mind), but, despite that, manages to deliver a satisfying ending to a thoughtful, intelligent movie that’s well worth your time.
Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the two people left on Earth, in charge of maintaining a fleet of drones that service massive power stations that serve as a power source for a large vessel called the Tet. His partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), serves as a watchful eye at the surveillance station Tech 49. Together, they receive their orders from Sally (Melissa Leo), who is aboard the space station. Everything needs to be maintained so the last vestiges of humanity can join the rest of humankind on the Saturn moon Titan, where the survivors of the war with the alien race called Scavs has relocated. One day while on patrol, Jack witnesses a spacecraft re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon inspecting the crash site, Jack finds survivors in life support pods. One of the drones comes on the scene as well, and proceeds to destroy the pods, despite Jack’s protests. He manages to save one person- Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who bears an eerie similarity to a woman Jack has been having dreams about, despite the fact that his memory has been wiped. Julia offers information on Jack’s past, and it causes Jack to question his current situation. Paying attention to all of this is the mysterious Beech (Morgan Freeman) who, along with a man named Sykes (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), leads a ragtag bunch of survivors still on the planet. Jack learns all that he thought is not what it seems, leading him to make a decision which could impact the fate of humanity.
The story is well told through the script by Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, and does a fairly nice job of giving the audience some nice twists and turns, at least until its final act. Kosinski keeps things moving along at a nice pace, only slowing down long enough during the film’s 124 minute running time to give us some reflection on Jack’s findings. The cast all does very well in their respective roles. Cruise is terrific as Jack, and does well in a role that he’s comfortably settled into, that of an everyman faced with extraordinary circumstances. Riseborough (Happy-Go-Lucky) is good as his partner Vic, and she gives a nice range of emotion, going from happy to being part of “an effective team” to falling apart as Jack begins to discover things about what is actually going on. Leo (The Fighter, the HBO series Treme) gives a good performance as the mysterious overseer to Jack and Victoria, being just charming enough hat you’d want to trust her but having just enough of a hint of menace as to make you aware that she may not be what she seems to be. Freeman is his usual solid self, injecting some humor into the proceedings, and Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones, Mama) does well in his small but pivotal role. Kurylenko (Seven Psychopaths, Hitman), as Julia, provides a nice catalyst for Jack as she offers the clues to his dreams about the Empire State Building before the war and their link from the past. The entire cast is believable in their roles, and not one really strikes a sour note.
Visually, the movie is quite stunning, from the blasted vistas Jack soars over on his patrols to the design of Jack’s aircraft, which is simple in its form but highly functional and versatile. Only on occasion do the drones remind you they are simply a special effect; most of the time they’re quite realistic on the screen. The action scenes are fast paced and thrilling, and are handled well, much as Kosinski handled the sequences in TRON: Legacy. All of the action also has an excellent soundtrack to thrill us to, provided by French electronic band M83. The music provides a perfect backdrop for the movie, with brooding synths as the camera pans over the landscape to a more pulsating beat during a chase through a canyon.
In all, Oblivion provides a smart, fairly original sci-fi flick for fans that want a little bit of thought to go with their action. It may fall down slightly in its final act, as it treads upon overly familiar territory, and yet it’s a strong enough movie to deliver a satisfying ending to its tale. If you’ve enjoyed films such as Minority Report, District 9, and Moon, this may be one for you to check out. Very entertaining, and well worth your time.
Oblivion is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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