Film: Oblivion
Starring: Tom Cruise
Director: Joseph Kosinski

When I was younger, Sci-Fi was the genre I ran to when I needed an escape from the world around me. Outer space, the future, armageddon, it all drew me in with wide eyes and an open mind. What is the point of making movies if you cannot be creative, right? Few genres allow for the kind of open-ended creativity that comes with sci-fi, and when a new genre blockbuster rolls out it is expected that it will come complete with an original story, unique characters, and in more recent times, eye-popping CGI. Oblivion does one of these things very well, but ranges from mediocre to forgettable in the two that matter most.

From the very first images and visuals released for the new Tom Cruise lead film Oblivion, two things were clear: This movie is going to have some amazing effects and feature a glimpse at a possible dystopian future. The first part of that statement holds up wonderfully in the final product, as every pixel is as high-gloss as modern filmmaking will allow and it’s accompanied by an equally polished (not to mention thunderous) soundtrack. Tom Cruise plays Jack, a man whose memory was erased by his employers five years ago before beginning a mission to Earth to look after drones that guard ships we need in order to secure (ie steal) resources we desperately need in space. The reasoning for Earth’s abandonment is attributed to the destruction of our moon throwing the planet into chaos, but sadly it’s something we’re never shown outside of various (gorgeously) CGI’d shots of a broken moon hanging ominously in the evening skies. Filmmakers choose instead to show a few notable landmarks, including the Empire State Building and Golden Gate Bridge, as well as vast stretches of debris and empty landscape.

Joining Jack on his journey is his teammate/partner/quasi-lover Victoria. They were assigned to one another and are the only two humans each other have any connect with, but whether or not a true emotional connection binds them isn’t a topic the film dives into too deeply. The problem is, Jack cannot shake a recurring dream in which he sees a different woman smiling and calling to him. He figures she’s part of his imagination since everything he once knew was supposedly erased, but while responding to an unidentified object crashing into Earth Jack realizes there is more to Earth’s downfall and his own life than he has yet to understand. Even worse, he’s being watched by a rogue group hellbent on destroying the machines Jack’s drones protect. In a world populated seemingly by only a handful of people, it’s hard to imagine finding yourself in more of a corner than Jack, but it’s the way the film handles the setup and resolution of Jack’s issues that leaves you feeling a bit of Deja Vu.

Dystopian futures are not a new concept in science fiction, nor are drones and the idea we may one day abandon Earth. Just like music it’s not always about the elements of your art, but the way you combine them to tell your story. Early on, Oblivion makes use of familiar territory with intriguing gadgetry and a planet that feels new even though we should know it as home. However, once the shine of “the future” wears off it becomes clear every major twist in both the main story and subplot of the film has been yanked from the most notable genre films of the last three decades. It’s like someone chose various highlights of Moon, Total Recall, The Matrix, Book Of Eli, and similar lesser features, threw them together with the one leading man Hollywood believes can handle a major action film, and stuffed it with CGI until the runtime thickened to two hours. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you’ve already seen the majority of those films and fallen in love with the concepts that were then (more or less) original. If that is the case, and I assume it will be for the majority of the film’s target market, Oblivion quickly starts to feel like a karaoke take on sci-fi.

Tom Cruise is a fine actor, and anyone would be hard pressed to find a role he couldn’t tackle, but a headline actor and flashy CGI is not enough to forgive the regurgitation of ideas previously done better that is Oblivion. If younger audiences or teens who have never viewed anything science leaning beyond Star Wars somehow wander into this film it may find an audience with their unexperienced eyes. Those of us who frequent the cinema on the other hand, not to mention those who consider science fiction an art and not a marketing ploy, will see through this cash grab before the first hour comes to a close.

Oblivion is the kind of film that should have been great, but decided to go with good enough instead. It’s perfectly acceptable weekend fodder that will let you escape the world for two hours, but it’s not the kind of feature you’ll want to discuss an hour after the credits roll, let alone recommend to friends.

Score: C-

Review written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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