I am a sucker for good sci-fi. I am willing to suspend all sorts of disbelief for a good sci-fi story, but only to a point. With beautiful set pieces, an inventive story, and a (mostly) haunting score this movie nearly makes perfect marks. Once you add the story in, however, things change drastically.
The story in Oblivion follows Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), one of the few remaining humans left on Earth in the year 2077. Jack and his handler, Victoria, are part of a skeleton crew left behind to maintenance hunter/killer drones that roam around looking for aliens. Supposedly, these aliens invaded 60 years before and waged a horrible war with humanity; we won, but we destroyed most the planet in the process. Despite supposedly having his mind wiped “for security purposes”, Jack has recurring dreams of a woman and a scene from before the war. When a pre-war spacecraft crash lands with survivors, Jack is shocked to see that one of them is the woman from his dreams. Things sort of hit the fan after that.
Oblivion is one of those stories that sound great in theory, or when you’re sharing an idea with a friend. However, the longer you try to stretch it out the less it makes sense. We start the movie knowing that something isn’t what it seems. Scenes practically scream out at the audience “THERE’S GOING TO BE A TWIST, AND IT’S GOING TO BLOW YOUR MIND” so often that by the time the twist comes you feel sadly let down.
The twist comes as Jack learns that the drones he’s maintaining are actually programmed to kill humans, not aliens. This would be because the “aliens” on the surface are actually a human resistance led by Morgan Freeman. Let me just point out here that if ever you awake to find yourself shackled to a chair and Morgan Freeman’s voice speaking to you from the darkness, you’re either about to learn a lot about penguins or you’re about to die.
This is obviously no surprise, since this much was already given away in the trailers. Needing another twist, we learn why Jack looks like he’s in his late 30’s, but has memories of something that happened over 60 years ago. Since this is science fiction, and we’ve all seen this trick before, the audience is almost able to recite along with the film at this point; “It’s because he’s not the real Jack Harper.”
This is a real shame since so much of what’s in Oblivion is obviously so well thought out. From the design of the bubble-ship to the sky tower to the drones, you could tell that there was a real grounding in reality where the science was concerned. There were many, MANY times in the film where I totally felt that I had seen things like this before, but slightly removed; as if I were familiar with an older version of these things.
The cinematography was well executed and you really felt drawn into this world of isolation. Throughout every scene, you can feel Harper’s unease with the clean, sterile world he’s supposed to represent and complete satisfaction he feels with the dead world left behind. I mean, even the promotional images convey that, and they were only a five second scene!
The one flaw I noticed was that the third act seemed to drop all ideas of pacing and just went all out. You kind of get the idea that a meeting went something along these lines:
“We’re running long, how much story do we have left? Really?! That much?!! OK, screw it. Give me a huge gun fight, a flight into space to power chords on guitar, a bit of suspense, an action-hero-catchphrase, and a nuke. Tie it all up for me, that’s a wrap!”
As hard as this movie tried to make you think throughout the first parts of it, it seemed to want you to suddenly stop thinking through the last part. The end result leaves you with more questions than anything. And these aren’t the good kind of questions either, like what’s the true form of a human’s soul if a clone with little more than a few random memories is able to regain his sense of self. See, THAT’D be a kickass question to have from it! Instead we gloss right over that and are left with other gems.
- How is the alien AI so stupid? It knows that Jack knows everything, and yet opens the door for him?
- If an army of brainwashed Jack Harper clones was powerful enough to take over the world, why didn’t the aliens just keep using those!? Why bother with the drones at all?
- Or, if we’re keeping with the drones, why bother with human repair techs? Just to add another point of failure?
- So the TET can only keep overwatch while it’s in the sky. But without the TET, all the drones just fall out of the sky. So every night, the drones are just sitting there, leaving everything defenseless?
- If each tech is limited in their permitted area to keep them from running into the other techs, shouldn’t you put the other areas slightly father apart? I mean they fly, literally, 1.5 seconds into the “forbidden zone” before coming across another clone. You’re saying that this has never happened before?
- Are the clones part of some hive-mind? ‘Cause if we’re going on the idea of an individual’s soul, then the clone who comes to visit you at the end isn’t the one who had a daughter with; it’s the one that shot you.
In the end, I feel torn about Oblivion. On one hand, the truly sloppy plot holes and laughably stupid villain completely blew the last half of the film for me. But on the other hand, I really enjoyed that first half! I liked the story it was trying to tell and I liked that it managed to do it so effortlessly. In the end, however, it felt like someone stepped back from this wonderful world they created and said, “Great, now lets blow it up!”