In 2010, Joseph Kosinski made his directorial debut with the visually stunning TRON sequel, TRON Legacy. Kosinski proved he had some serious talent for creating a believable, digital world for his characters to inhabit, and it's no surprise that the budding filmmaker has done it again for the impressive futuristic sci-fi drama Oblivion. This story takes place in 2077 after a brutal alien war caused planet Earth to be decimated and rearranged after the humans detonated nukes to wipe out the enemy. Now, just a pair of survivors are located atop the ruins of New York City as a kind of clean-up crew, helping to fix and maintain the drones that are frequently sent out to eradicate any surviving aliens. Jack Harper, played by Tom Cruise, takes regular trips to the surface from his solitude in the sky with partner Victoria, but steers clear of designated perimeters that were set up to keep them safe from radiation zones. Harper and Victoria only have two more weeks before they join the other survivors on one of Saturn's moons.
Kosinski creates a wonderful post-apocalyptic world that is one of the few I've seen that borders on beautiful. White is used heavily for all of the futuristic outfits and architecture, while the barren wastelands often look more lush and brimming with new life than dark and dirty. Meanwhile, any ruins of NYC that Harper stumbles upon are eerily realistic. From The Empire State building to an obliterated New York Public Library, the attention to detail is breathtaking. There are elements of Oblivion that make it feel like it's a disaster movie, but more so in the wake of one than an actual disaster flick. But Oblivion tone-hops a bit, while staying wholly within the sci-fi realm. While watching it, I was frequently reminded of other movies like I Am Legend, The Island, the Total Recall remake and even Cruise's own Minority Report a little bit. Heck, my wife even pointed out a lot of similarities to Pixar's animated film Wall-E, and with good reason. But Oblivion stands on its own really well regardless of any familiar developments. Kosinski works hard to keep it fresh and plot-twisting without letting you get too lost before something is explained. Still, when the credits roll, you're bound to have a few unanswered questions.
At 50 years old now, Tom Cruise is still an incredible action star. I've watched many of his big blockbuster movies over the years (starting with Mission:Impossible in 1996), and he's often caught flack for being cheesy or campy. While I can definitely see that in a movie like Mission:Impossible II, the guy has shown some serious acting chops in many of these blockbusters, especially a more demanding role like the one in Minority Report. Oblivion is no exception. He shies away from hiding behind his blissful signature grin and plays Jack as a very well-rounded and developed character. Cruise is an engaging actor to watch and he makes everything his character does in Oblivion believable. Starring alongside Cruise for much of the first half of the movie (before the mysteries start unraveling), is British actress Andrea Riseborough as Victoria. Vic is more by-the-book than Harper, as Harper's presumably erased memories begin to haunt him, and he lets his love for what he remembers about life on Earth dictate his emotions. Technically, I don't think we're supposed to really like Victoria, and Riseborough seems to make sure of that. When Quantum of Solace's Olga Kurylenko enters as Julia, we realize just why Vic isn't supposed to be exactly likeable. Olga seems to have really grown as an actress too, and she gets the chance to show that in Oblivion (even if she's a bit underwritten next to Jack).
It's tough to discuss the plot without giving key moments of the plot away, but Kosinski keeps the audience on their toes as we're introduced to the world as Harper knows it and then have that world shattered at the same time it is for him. We're never a step ahead of Harper and that helps in bringing the audience closer to Harper's character and what he's going through. Between that and an engaging score from the masterful collaboration of M83, Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese (for a TRON meets Inception vibe), Kosinski just seems to have all the right pieces in place to create an exceptional piece of sci-fi. The only thing that may mar this experience for some may be the familiarity of certain plot points or some of those points being left unexplained. Furthermore, Kosinski continues to test the limits of how far the audience can stretch their acceptance of the extraordinary plot developments. Granted, it all makes for a great science fiction experience at the movies, but you just can't overthink things. The other thing is, if you are not open to a very science fiction-driven plot, you're likely to come out of watching Oblivion wondering what just happened. (I've heard some complaints that the movie is too slow, too, but I disagree. I feel it's paced pretty well to ease you into Jack's world and the characters therein before revealing thre truth. To me, the worst is when a movie like this is all action with no substance. I think Kosinski found a fair balance here.)
The content for the film embraces the rating pretty firmly. While the violence never gets too graphic, Kosinski pushes the sensuality and nudity barrier a bit for the PG-13 rating. We first see a bare-back view of Victoria in the shower in a passing shot, and then later, she strips down for a nude swim on the balcony of their futuristic loft. It's darkly lit, but we see her full bare backside for an extended shot and then a long shot of her swimming in a clear glass-encased pool. We see her bare back again as she pulls Jack in with her, and the two kiss a bit and swim to the bottom of the pool while embracing before the scene ends (we see that as a long shot too with no explicit nudity). As for violence, there is some fighting, shooting, etc, with some characters being vaporized when shot by large guns, and in one scene, a character is shot in the stomach and we see a lot of blood on their hand and shirt. Later, we see a pulled-back shot of the wound (in other words, it's not a close-up and isn't very gory) as another person tends to the wound. The profanity is mostly mild, but there is one use of the "F" word near the end of the film that feels sorely unnecessary and rather cheesy in the way that it's used. (If you've seen the movie Red and remember Karl Urban's usage of it in one of the final scenes, it's just like that here.) Other language includes a handful of "S" words, "S.O.B," and about 3 uses of "g*dd*mn." Overall, I've seen worse for a PG-13 movie, but after Kosinski kept things family-friendly in TRON Legacy, I don't see what the nudity or profanity added to Oblivion.
In the end, Oblivion is a stylish and intriguing piece of science fiction. There's enough drama and action included to keep the audience invested, but diehard fans of the genre will probably get the most out of it. It's thought-provoking and memorable enough to leave a lasting impression, and the film's score is another one to check into after watching the movie. I'm excited to see what Kosinski will bring to the big screen next (which apparently will be a sequel to TRON Legacy).
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 4/19/13)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: We see a passing shot of Jack and Victoria showering. It's not sensual, but we see her bare back from just above her butt and up, and a sideview of Jack from the torso-up; Victoria strips off her uniform while standing in front of their pool. As such, we see her full bare butt and backside, and then a quick shot of her diving right into the pool. Jack walks out to the poolside and she pops up from the water (we see her bare back again). She then pulls Jack into the pool and he takes off his shirt. They kiss and we then see a distant shot of them embracing as they swim down to the bottom of the pool (it's a clear glass pool); We see Jack and Julia in a bed together in the morning and it's assumed they slept together.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "F" word, 3 "g*dd*mn," 5 "S" words, 6 "h*ll," 3 "S.O.B," 1 "oh my G-d," 1 "d*mn"
Alcohol/Drugs: We see some glasses at a dinner table and a champagne bottle in another scene, but nothing significant; A man puffs on a cigar in another scene.
Blood/Gore: Jack has a bloody cut on the bridge of his nose for a good portion of the film; Jack has some blood on his head after getting hit; A person sits up toward the camera and vomits a lot of liquid up; A character lifts up their hand to find blood on it and we then see their hands on their stomach with their shirt being soaked with blood there. We see this a few more times and then, later, their shirt is lifted to reveal the wound, but it isn't focused upon; A person is shot by a drone and while we don't see the impact, we see the ashes of their remains spread across the floor and onto another person.
Violence: Jack is almost attacked by a drone but he tells it to stand down; Jack climbs down a hole in the ground to investigate and is pursued by dark, shadowy figures. He tries to climb out but his rope is cut and he falls to the ground. He then fires at the figures and suddenly a blast vaporizes one of them. We then see that the drone he repaired had shown up and it fires on the Scavs; A pod crashes on the surface and several human capsules are littered across the ground. A drone then shows up and destroys all but one of them; A Scav hits Jack in the face with the butt of a rifle. He wakes up chained to a chair. He's released and shot in the chest with a blaster but ends up being okay (his suit is apparently also armored); Drones pursue a vehicle and fire on it. There's a high speed chase that ends with drones being destroyed; A character wakes up and vomits out a lot of substance. A woman goes to inject a sedative into their arm but that person grabs her hand before she can; Two men struggle over a rifle and punch and wrestle each other over it. It ends when one of them chokes the other one until they pass out; A person is accidentally shot and we see their hand covered in blood and blood soaked on their shirt; A drone obliterates a person, turning them to ash; A drone attacks some people and vaporizes them before being blown up itself; A series of drones attack a large group of people, killing many before being stopped; A bomb detonates, destorying a ship and killing a couple people; and other sci-fi violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.