Review: Sci-Fi Cinema Did It Better Before 'Oblivion'
Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi flick “Oblivion” is like the South Park episode “Simpsons Already Did It,” where Butters tries to cause havoc, and is continually foiled when he learns that “The Simpsons did it!” first. With Kosinski’s film though, you might say, “Cinema did it!” repeatedly after the introduction of each well-traveled science fiction theme in the movie.
In “Oblivion,” Jack (Tom Cruise) is one of the last remaining people on an Earth scorched by war with alien invaders. Mankind is colonizing a new home, so most humans are preparing for the voyage, on a giant space station orbiting the planet. Jack sticks around monitoring contraptions that are harvesting energy for the new colony. Working with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), he repairs security drones and fights off the last few resource-hungry alien scavengers or “Scavs” for short. While tracking these baddies however, Jack witnesses a spaceship crash, which causes him to question his mission as well as everything else.
Without revealing too much of the plot, “Oblivion” borrows heavily from other genre films like “Total Recall,” “Moon,” “The Matrix,” and “Independence Day.” It would be one thing if this mashup appeared to be intentional homage, but it mostly just seems like a lack of creativity. Kosinski even lifts from his own prior effort “TRON: Legacy,” taking the bright, slick computer interfaces, along with similar intense electronic music. The technology in the film is chic and engaging, but the tunes performed by French group M83 are silly and unnecessarily epic. While the loud music pushes itself to the foreground, you can’t help feeling like the 80s-inspired synths are trying to make you swoon.
On top of all the reused themes, “Oblivion” is frustrating because it can’t really decide what type of story it wants to be. Given its expensive effects, the film borders on big-budget action in the vein of “Minority Report.” With Cruise’s brooding narration and the central love story, it also comes close to being a relationship film like “12 Monkeys” or “Gattaca.” Instead of picking a motif, Kosinski and his co-writers Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, let the picture straddle an ineffective middle ground between the two. At least there are a couple of entertaining supporting players like Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo in the mix to liven things up.
“Oblivion” isn’t a remake of anything; although it might as well be. The fact that it’s based on Kosinski’s own graphic novel means little, given its numerous recycled elements. And like most remakes, you’ll feel like the films that it mimics not only did these things first, they did them better.
My Grade: C...as in Come on! You Can Do Better Than That!