Review: Oblivion (Chris Bumbray’s take)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: In 2077, Earth has been rendered uninhabitable after a long war with an alien scavenger race. Jack (Tom Cruise) is a technician, left behind to service robot drones that harvest the planet’s remaining resources. He lives in tower thousands of feet above the surface with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), his communications officer and lover. Both of them had their memories wiped at the beginning of their five year tour of duty. One day, while on patrol, Jack rescues a woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who’s a dead ringer for the woman that’s been haunting his dreams. How did she end up on Earth, and why can’t he stop dreaming about her?

REVIEW: It’s strange to say this about a movie that hasn’t even opened in North America yet, but already, OBLIVION feels totally underrated. Since its overseas debut last weekend, OBLIVION’s critical notices have been decidedly mixed. Everyone agrees that director Joseph Kosinski has made a film that’s visually striking, but nobody seems to think the story is worth all that much, with the common complaint being that it’s derivative.

I went into OBLIVION with that in mind, and I honestly wasn’t expecting much beyond a fun ride with some good eye candy. To my surprise, I actually got a lot more than that, with OBLIVION being an ambitious film on more than just a visual level. To be fair to the critics that haven’t been too keen on it, Kosinski’s film is far more successful visually than it is narratively, but even still, it tries to be something more than your typical sci-fi programmer, and for the most part I think it succeeds.

OBLIVION is certainly a more cerebral sci-fi movie than the trailers would have you believe, and it definitely feels like a throwback to the kind of pre-STAR WARS sci-fi of the sixties and seventies. In that regard, it would probably make an interesting double bill with MOON, as they seem to be inspired by a lot of the same movies, like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THX 1138, and SILENT RUNNING.

Like his last film, TRON: LEGACY, Kosinski’s OBLIVION benefits tremendously from an arresting mix of visuals and music. The cool, sterile whites of Jack and Victoria’s sanctuary are an interesting contrast to the vast open spaces of a ravaged earth, and the shots juxtaposing Cruise against the empty landscape are gorgeous. If you have the opportunity to watch OBLIVION on an IMAX screen, I’d wager this is one movie that’s really worth the extra expense. It’s all complemented by a stunning musical score by French electronica band M83 and co-composer Joseph Trapanese (who also worked with Daft Punk on their TRON:LEGACY score). If you know M83’s work (“Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is a great album), you’ll expect the gorgeous electronic soundscapes we get throughout, although the score is never overwhelming, and can be effectively subtle when needed. It’s the perfect complement to what’s happening on-screen, and some of the cues, such as the track “Starwaves” (which plays during a love scene), are absolutely superb.

That said, everyone, even the critics that don’t like OBLIVION, have agreed that the visuals and the score are perfect. How does the rest of the film fare? Here’s where I differ with a lot of the critics. The story- which I can’t really go into too much detail about here without giving away spoilers- actually worked quite well for me. Jack’s solitary journey felt like something out of a cool episode of THE OUTER LIMITS, and I really liked the big twist in the movie’s third act that seemed to put a lot of people off. The key to its working for me is probably Tom Cruise’s performance. With someone else in the lead, OBLIVION probably wouldn’t have worked as well, but Cruise, who always brings sincerity to his parts, really nails it. Jack- having had his memory wiped- has no life but his work repairing drones on Earth. His sexual relationship with Riseborough’s cool and efficient Victoria is a nice perk, but even this seems like something of a necessity, and the only time he seems to be in his element is when relaxing at his secret refuge- an untouched cabin by a lake. Cruise perfectly plays Jack’s conflicting feelings about the fact that his mission is over in two weeks, when he’ll presumably go with Victoria to a colony on Saturn’s moon. Compared to his the larger-than-life Jack Reacher, this other Jack allows him to do some nicely subtle work, and his usual action prowess is toned down a bit, making him more of a working-man type, than a one-man-army.

Riseborough (W.E) is also very good as Victoria, taking what could have been a two-dimensional role, and giving it some pathos and humanity. She has a cool façade, but she hints at something more below the surface, and it’s some nice work on her part. Olga Kurylenko, as literally the woman of Jack’s dreams, has the more conventional part, but even still, Kurylenko is good and seems to be nicely establishing herself beyond her former Bond-girl status.

Of course, the three of them aren’t alone for very long, and Morgan Freeman shows up as a mysterious scavenger, alongside GAME OF THRONES’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Freeman basically plays Freeman, in that he’s the grizzled wise-man with all the answers. By this point, Freeman can play this kind of role in his sleep, but he doesn’t phone it in, and seems to be having fun.

Even if OBLIVION’s premise doesn’t quite work for you (and I can easily understand people going one way or another on this), at the very least it can’t be denied that OBLIVION is visually stunning, and makes for a tremendously entertaining two hours. But- I still think OBLIVION’s story has a lot more merit than people will admit, and if you go in with an open mind, and don’t mind an unconventional twist or two, you may get more out of this than you think.





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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.