‘Oblivion’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:46 am,

Oblivion Reviews Starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman 2013 Oblivion Review

Melodrama and predictable reveals keep the film from being the mind-bending creation that Kosinski may have envisioned, but the director still presents a captivating future with rich visuals.

In Oblivion, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is part of a two-person crew tasked with protecting Earth’s remaining resources following a cataclysmic alien invasion that left the planet uninhabitable. Along with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), Jack oversees and maintains a deadly armada of defense drones – charged with shielding massive resource harvesters from the hostile “Skav” attacks.

The pair are supported in their efforts by mission commander Sally (Melisso Leo) who lives aboard the Tet – an orbital space station and the base of harvest operations. In two weeks time, the harvesters will have collected enough raw materials from Earth to ensure humanity’s long-term survival – at which point Jack and Victoria are scheduled to join the other survivors on Titan (Saturn’s largest moon). However, when a routine Drone repair raises new information about the Skavs, Jack begins to ask dangerous questions about his mission.

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Andrea Riseborough as Victoria in ‘Oblivion’

Oblivion was directed by sophomore feature-filmmaker Joseph Kosinski - based on a graphic novel treatment that he co-penned with comic book writer Arvid Nelson (Dark Horse Comics’ Rex Mundi). Given his experience with Tron: Legacy (along with memorable commercials for Halo 3 and Gears of War), Kosinski is no stranger to sprawling CGI worlds and slick futuristic tech – but from the opening scene, Oblivion sets out to tell a more contemplative story – one that can’t simply be glossed over with memorable action beats. It’s an intimidating and tricky balance to find – especially in a project that is so personal. By the time the credits roll, Kosinski was responsible for Oblivion‘s creation, initial story, first screenplay adaptation, and directing.

Fortunately, with the help of screenwriters William Monahan (The Departed), Karl Gajdusek (Dead Like Me), and Michael Arndt (Star Wars Episode 7), Oblivion also tells a captivating story – with interesting twists and entertaining (albeit brief) moments of humor and levity. Science fiction fans will be able to anticipate some of the plot beats ahead of schedule, but even in the cases where savvy moviegoers guess correctly, it rarely detracts from the intended emotional payoff.

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Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Drone 166 in ‘Oblivion’

In fact, Oblivion prioritizes its central character story over nearly every other element of the production – meaning that some moviegoers who were expecting a high-octane post-apocalyptic war story may be underwhelmed by the limited action set-pieces. The film includes a handful of exciting combat scenes – each with slick visual effects and enjoyable excitement – but relative to the character story and overall world-building, large scale action moments are in short supply. Instead, Oblivion unravels a multifaceted sci-fi mystery story – relying on tense character encounters and reveals to keep audiences engaged (even if plot holes and heavy-handed melodrama sometimes weigh it down).

Considering the relatively small cast, Cruise is responsible for a number of Oblivion‘s best moments – gripping anxiety when fiddling with the finicky but lethal aerial drones, or a charming obsession when he encounters long-abandoned relics of humanity. Jack is a likable and contemplative lead character that fits within the usual Cruise wheelhouse, but even though he shares characteristics with Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) and John Anderton (Minority Report), the actor focuses on the right idiosyncrasies to serve Oblivion. Instead of adding another over-the-top action hero to his resume, Cruise is a bit more delicate with Jack – resulting in a more inviting and, at times, stirring performance.

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Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in ‘Oblivion’

The supporting cast is equally competent with a complicated and rich turn from Andrea Riseborough (Never Let Me Go) as Victoria, Jack’s communications officer and sole-confidant. Whereas Jack is hesitant to leave humanity’s “home” (Earth), Victoria is eager to reunite with the rest of the survivors on Titan – and watching her attempt to placate and manage her increasingly erratic partner provides Riseborough with plenty of material. Similarly, Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, and Olga Kurylenko all offer meaningful additions to the onscreen Oblivion drama – each with their own moments in the spotlight.

Kosinski also owes much of Oblivion‘s success to the effects department – since they brought two of the more interesting “characters” to life: the previously mentioned aerial drones, and the drowned and frozen landscape of post-war New York City. The drones (number 166 in particular) walk a fascinating line between comedy relief and thoughtless killing machines – making them one of the most riveting and nerve-wracking aspects of the plot. Similarly, while New York City is effectively “dead,” destroyed in the war, remnants of its former glory make for some of the more absorbing scenes in the film – and a constant reminder of the destruction wrought by the alien attack.

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The post-apocalyptic skies of ‘Oblivion’

Surprisingly, Oblivion was not post-converted into 3D but is getting a limited run in IMAX. In this case, the added IMAX cost is hard to justify – especially for moviegoers who expect significant return on a premium ticket experience. That said, for those who don’t mind spending a few extra dollars, the IMAX experience could still be worthwhile. The bigger screen size enhances the scale in Oblivion‘s post-apocalyptic settings and, more importantly, cranks up the sound. Honking and clunking mechanisms in the the drones and other high-tech vehicles help sell the authenticity of Kosinski’s near-future world and a superior sound system is preferable (though, as stated, not essential).

Oblivion is not the most exciting or the smartest science fiction experience to ever hit theaters; action fans may be underwhelmed by a limited amount of gunplay, and viewers looking for an especially deep sci-fi world might find too many familiar tropes. Melodrama and predictable reveals keep the film from being the mind-bending creation that Kosinski may have envisioned, but the director still presents a captivating future with rich visuals and an intriguing protagonist. Oblivion could have easily been a convoluted and indulgent moviegoing experience; instead, the film keeps a restrained focus on Jack’s character journey – which, thankfully, is an “effective team” of drama and post-apocalyptic adventure.

If you’re still on the fence about Oblivion, check out the trailer below:


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Oblivion runs 126 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity. Now playing in regular and IMAX theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Oblivion Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Oblivion episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
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  1. I actually enjoyed the movie very much but not for reasons of plot, storyline, or necessarily effects. When I was going to College and taking a film class, one of our ongoing assignments was watching a movie every week and reviewing it. During this period I found it difficult to simply sit back and enjoy a movie without picking it to bits. It took a while for me to get out of this mode and simply let the movie be what it is and enjoy it for what it is. I deeply enjoy Sci-Fi and fantasy movies, and now split them into two categories: crazy mind-bending thought provokers, or simply magic carpets meant mainly to entertain and take you away to another world. Oblivion definitely falls into the category of the latter, and in this category excels. The visuals, atmosphere, music and sound all lend to a highly believable world that I was very happy to escape to for a couple of hours. I’m always tickled pink by ideas of machine intelligence, the evolution of species, and singularitarian questions posed by authors like Ray Kurzweil. While the ideas posed by Oblivion were not necessarily mind bending or original, I’m always interested to see how these ideas are painted to life on the big screen. What would these civilizations look like? How would they act? How would they survive? In that regard, Oblivion is a feast for the eyes and soul. And I’m perfectly OK with letting it be what it is… There are plenty of other movies I can devote my energy to picking apart, for this one, I’m happy to enjoy it as pure entertainment and experience alone.

  2. I enjoyed this movie. I can’t stand Cruise and his presence in the movie almost kept me from seeing it. I’m glad I did. This isn’t a typical Tom Cruise action hero movie, with him cracking wise with a smirk as he kicks a$$ and takes names. This movie actually got me to care about Cruise’s character. No, the plot themes and elements weren’t original, but I like all of those sci-fi plot elements and I’m happy to see someone else put a different twist on them. Fantastic visuals and an awesome soundtrack. Is it going to win Oscars? No. But did it provide me with an enjoyable escape for a couple of hours? Absolutely, and that’s what movies are really about.

  3. I just want to state a few things for everyone that believes the plot is lacking and there are plot holes and the movie wasn’t engaging or action packed enough. Please stop talking. This movie is very very easy to fallow if you have half a brain and the point of this movie was not to be full of ACTION. It a story about the true spirit of mankind in the face of overwhelming odds and the ability of one person to change history. The technology in it was very intriguing and factual. well done i think from a cgi stand point. I feel like now if people dont get enough shinny things and big explosions they think a movie is crap and thats just a load of crap. There are no plot holes! I read atleast 4 comments going “oh how are they doing that with all the radiation” there WAS NO RADIATION people. That was a lie told to jack by the tet. to keep him in his sector.99% of the hate and bad reviews this movie gets is from the simple fact that people couldnt fallow it. Which blows me AWAY! I found it to be a refreshing diffeerence from the movies now that lead you along by your nose and explain everything. I feel like the average person is an idiot after seeing the reviews that get writing about it. If you didnt understand somthing or couldnt fallow it…well thats a lack of your intelligence not the movie. And lastly on to the people who say the characters were subduded or the acting was bad. i again want to point out that i dont think you understand what having your memory whiped and being programmed would do to you. I feel like this was one of toms more ELEGANT roles character wise.

    TLDR If your writing anything negative about this movie it dou to your own lack of intelligence and knowledge, and has nothing to do with this amazing movie.

  4. I must say I was veritably impressed by this film. And surprised as well, seeing as most reviews had been lukewarm or negative. I loved the art design and the pacing.

    Sure, there are a few plot holes here and there, but I challenge viewers to suspend their disbelief for a second and simply allow themselves to be transported into the world Oblivion creates.

  5. I finally got to see Oblivion on DVD. Here’s how I saw it:

    In the year 2077, Tech 49, Jack Harper is one of the last drone repairmen stationed on earth. From Tower 49, a base standing above the remains of the northeastern USA , Jack and his foul mouthed partner “Vika” work as a team to maintain the autonomous drones that defend the power stations from the few remaining alien bandits. As the story progresses, Jack realizes that Vika is a clone of his former partner and in the climatic scene he confronts her. Vika denies it, swearing a “sacra blu” streak, (pardon my French) before backing over a railing and falling 3000 feet to her death. Jack is then arrested for, making an obscene clone fall and the rest of the movie is about his trial, where, in a classic role reversal, he gets to shout: “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!” Jack is convicted, tied to a shark, fired into an active volcano, via a nuclear missile and probably dies. Opra Winfrey, playing Morgan Freeman, was also in the movie, but I don’t know why.

    Enough commas? You know, you can’t use too many commas.

  6. Can’t hear the dialogue over the music! Regardless of everything else this massive technical blunder basically made it too difficult to watch. Not good enough.

  7. Oblivion was brilliant! Epic cinematics, great build up in the storyline, good acting…my perfect sci-fi movie. Loved it!!!