Director Joseph Kosinki’s Oblivion tests the age-old question, “do special effects and visuals counteract the flaws and weaknesses in a story?” How that question is answered is entirely subjective, however, the strength of this film is that it is already a strong story to begin with. The year is 2077, and Earth has been devastated after an interplanetary war- the entire population of the planet, save for Jack Harper, played by Tom Cruise, and Victoria, played by Andrea Riseborough.
Their job is to maintain the sea draining devices and their respective defensive drones that are under constant attack from the remainder of the enemy ground forces. While repairing a downed drone, Jack happens upon a recently crashed shuttle containing bodies of half a dozen different people that the drones begin firing upon for no reason. Jack is able to save one of them; a woman who has been inexplicably in his dreams. Unfortunately, before long, the two of them are captured by the enemy, led by Morgan Freeman. What unfolds is a series of twists and mis-directions that are simultaneously intriguing and telegraphed.
The story in this film feels very much like a video game, in a complimentary way. From the outset, it is apparent that everything isn’t right with the ones in charge, but there isn’t enough information to know just what, begging the story to continue to figure out what. The enemy, though powerful, isn’t all that they seem to be.
The story is both rich and complex, which serves to be a weakness as well as a strength. The story attempts to do too much with their time frame. As a result, although most subplots and arcs reach a satisfactory conclusion, there are still great amounts of simple and logical questions that are not met with an answer. Although they are not particularly detrimental to the main story as a whole, they are still somewhat frustrating.
The visuals in this film are positively stunning. At times, they will make one question their physical possibilities. For example, one of the most iconic images in the previews has been Jack in the destroyed remains of a football stadium. The concrete and metal stands are long since eroded, more than likely melted from the nuclear explosions from the war. However, both goal posts are both standing and only seem slightly dirty. There are other such examples; however, they make for a much more rich, familiar setting that is both more chilling and haunting to see it so spectacularly portrayed in the broken remnants of its former glory.
The acting in this movie isn’t particularly bad, but the direction of some of the characters is perplexing. When Julia, played by Olga Kurylenko, first awakens from her suspended animation, her reaction to seeing Jack and Victoria is almost hostile instead of naturally inquisitive or familiar, yet there is no reason for it. None of the characters ever seem to ask natural questions, even though curiosity is the most natural of man’s habits.
Despite its flaws, Oblivion really has a lot of things going for it. It is a rich, complex story filled with intrigue that will constantly beg the audience to see more. The characters are deep with their own individual wants, needs, desires and arcs that are established and finished. However, said flaws are both nagging in their persistence. There are obvious questions and issues that don’t seem to be answered simply because “the plot must go on” or worse, “because it’s not important to the main plot.” The special effects are astounding as we see the full scope of the enemy and its technology. Yet it is interesting to see why an enemy who is capable of annihilating the moon- whose images of shattered remains looks fantastic – isn’t capable of detecting an enemy using dated stealth technology or making the planet uninhabitable for any resistance.
On the surface, Oblivion is a visually stunning, complex story with compelling characters and great settings. Deeper than that, there are many questions that go unanswered and a lot of problems that don’t have any conclusion. It is a good movie, but it is a far cry from great. Two stars out of four.
Watch the trailer here. In theaters nationwide April 19th.