Yesterday when I wrote about the Elysium trailer I said that making good sci-fi is hard. It’s just a big pit of vipers and the vipers are named things like Exposition and Logic and Narrative Mandate. Good sci-fi requires a huge amount of behind-the-scenes planning, the majority of which will never actually be used in the final product (be it movie or book), but the rules and laws of the world created need to make some kind of sense. Take Prometheus, which introduced a lot of interesting concepts and then failed to address/explain any of them, and the stuff it did actually flesh out was done in the most simple, space-bullsh*t way possible (see also: the birth of the baby alien).
Tom Cruise’s new movie, Oblivion, like Prometheus, doesn’t attend to the details. Large chunks of it make no sense. And the parts that do make sense are so simple and derivative it’s kind of embarrassing for anyone who thought that movie had any kind of depth during the planning stages. It comes off especially poor against Trance, which has similar themes of memory and perception, but which never takes itself too seriously, choosing style over substance and only laying enough logical groundwork to keep the narrative running and the characters moving, but not really probing particularly deeply into either issue. As a result, Trance is stylish and sexy and fun to watch, if a bit of a lightweight, but Oblivion takes itself so seriously that not only is it a thematic lightweight but it’s not particularly fun to watch.
It is beautiful to look at, though, and director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) really does have a knack for creating sweeping visuals that are, at points, breathtaking. And the opening scene is really fantastic. If Oblivion was just its opening scene, it would be a great short film. Unfortunately, it goes on for another hundred minutes and everything falls apart. Oblivion wants to be a movie with Big Ideas but what ideas it does have are plainly “borrowed” from the likes of The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Wall-E gets jacked not only thematically but visually. The greatest question the movie asks is, “Wasn’t Wall-E great? Wouldn’t it be cool if it was remade as a live-action Tom Cruise movie?”
As for Action Tom, he’s serviceable but seems more robotic than usual. I enjoyed Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible 4, but Oblivion is lifeless not only because it’s dumb but because the actors don’t seem really into it, either. At one point I expected Morgan Freeman to turn to the camera mid-exposition dump and say, “Do I really need to keep explaining this or can we just get back to blowing sh*t up?” Also, and I’m with Lainey on this, Tom needs to stop taking his shirt off. I don’t need to be reminded that he’s gestating sea monsters in there.
I’m not alone in disliking Oblivion and finding it both reductive and derivative. Reviews started rolling out this week and they’re pretty harsh across the board. Calling it “hollow” is putting it nicely. Oblivion is basically what it would look like if Wall-E ate Blade Runner and threw it up in HALO.
Attached - - Tom Cruise at the Oblivion premiere last night in Los Angeles.