‘Oblivion’ Review

Published 1 year 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.

Andrea Riseborough Victoria Oblivion Oblivion Review

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.

Oblivion Tom Cruise Drone 166 Oblivion Review

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.

Oblivion Movie Morgan Freeman Oblivion Review

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.

Tech 49 Oblivion Movie Oblivion Review

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)

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TAGS: oblivion

173 Comments

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  1. I enjoyed it, wasn’t disappointed with there being no big action scenes. I found myself rather intrigued by what had happened.

    The performances are well done, the two main character’s seem somewhat subdued, I’m assuming – Not exactly a spoiler here, just a plot point, but if you don’t want to know look away now – it’s because they’ve had their memories wiped, supposedly for security reasons, making them both seem a bit mechanical.

    But anyway, I enjoyed the film, the CGI effects are excellent, probably some of the best I’ve seen in a while in a big budget film.

    Pretty much agree with the review but I gave it 4 stars, enjoyed it a lot.

  2. Oblivion was enjoyable, especially the “emotional payoff” with the score resembling the mystical score of “Legend.” And Cruise’s words at the end, nice. Even though it held a lot of similarities to other sci fi films, and didn’t even do a good job at trying to hide it (the matrix did a better but still noticeable job in hiding its Aliens, Terminator 2 and Johnny Mnemonic elements)if they ever did, I still felt a sense of sincerity. On a personal level this is one of my favorite Tom Cruise films, behind “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Minority Report.” But looking at it from a distance I doubt that the world audience would release as many star ratings from their confines as I did. I give it three out of four gold stars.

    • Also, there’s a lot of nostalgia here, which the writer of this post pinpoints accurately. That could be a good or a bad thing. But like the writer also stated, about the familiarity not taking away from Oblivion’s own clay to the mold. The nostalgia brings you home, but the main focus prevents you from falling asleep.

  3. I went in expecting a Tron Legacy-like visual spectacle. I got that and a lot more. I agree it’s worth the extra money to go IMAX. While I agree it’s not the smartest science fiction movie experience, it is pretty good!

  4. I thought It sucked big time. Nice visuals but acting was pretty ordinary, weak screenplay with story that’s been done so many times before and nothing special about its action either. As for the protagonist, Tom cruise didn’t do it for me. I wouldn’t give more than two stars

    • well I think that the rebels’ emotional state and Tom Cruise’s emotional state differed because Tom’s memories were wiped as well as his mission operator’s. He’s subdued on purpose. And I think the trailers did a good job in guiding movie goers to its mystery type and not action type preface.

  5. I have to say, the terrible word of mouth and bad reviews made me enjoy this movie a whole lot more given how low my expectations were. I’m sure I would have felt differently if I was expecting a Cruise-Freeman epic of sorts. Overall: Not bad at all. I’ve seen a whole lot worse.

  6. I’m not a Tom Cruise fan. I don’t expecting to see this in theaters.

    I would have bought a ticket this weekend, if Kosinski had cast as the main protagonist, an unknown, but good, up and coming talent. They needed an “everyman” for this movie and Tom Cruise has too much baggage that is the opposite of that.

    • So you’re technically not entitled to review or rate a movie you haven’t seen.
      But you blindly do, anyway.
      Good job, there.

  7. Wow, I’m really shocked at this review! I can’t believe you guys gave “Oblivion” a better score than “The Place Beyond the Pines”. The latter was an amazing movie, while “Oblivion” is all about visuals. It’s story stole from every Sci fi film ever made!! I disliked “Oblivion”.

    • Name some great sci fi movies that didn’t steal from a previous sci fi film?

      • The classics. Your statement/argument/response is very obvious. But seriously, it completely ripped off Moon. Which was a very recent and praised film. He took Moon and Wall-E and 2001: A Space Odyssey and made a lackluster film with great visuals.

        • I don’t believe that Oblivion is a good on a global level. My nostalgia for the film is more of “Legend” by the score, a revamped “Independence Day” day ending, that plot device that hides the macguffin or true gravity from the viewer leaving its main characters on an island to develop traction before getting to the meat, like “Aliens,” and “Jurassic Park” is a plot device that I don’t get tired of, as opposed to your familiarity which is just Wall-E and space Odyssey. No one’s right here. Personally, This movie just brought about happier images from my movie history, then added it’s own clay to the mold with Jack and his Wife’s journey. I don’t think that it will get great praise globally, or an Oscar Nomination, but it evoked positive emotion(which is absent in a lot of films), it hit home and didn’t put me to sleep.

          • It depends on what you were looking for in this film. I’m glad that I wasn’t looking for anything because that’s what prevented me from enjoying The Dark Knight Rises. Looking before listening prevented me from enjoying that film, because the first time I saw it I missed the point. The point of TDKR wasn’t about the prison having cable television, or bruce wayne’s magic leg brace, or that batman was hardly in the film, or that the fight sequences were so lame, or that the prison was out in the open and no one rescued the prisoners, or Bain’s lame voice, or how every scene there’s an explanation through dialogue and no art of insinuation, or the first bat bike scene with batman just riding the bike in one direction and turning around to ride it in another, just to hop into the batwing- making it very uneventful. The movie wasn’t about all of those things, it was about Batman’s initial intention of creating a symbol and creating another hero, and finding his equal in a woman with CatWoman, who is more like him than that lawyer was who died in the second movie. It showed you his failures, of why you shouldn’t kill, the daughter of one of the only enemies he killed tried to ruin his city because of it. That’s what was important, and I missed it because I was looking for the wrong thing, and as a result I didn’t enjoy the movie.

    • Movies can be all about visuals and still be fantastic movies. It’s a visual medium, after all. Conversely, a movie that is solely focused on story, characters and dialog isn’t automatically a good movie. Watch The Room in order to take that point to the extreme. :D

      Besides: Oblivion and The Place Beyond the Pines and their ratings shouldn’t even be compared, because they are part of completely different genres and try to accomplish completey different things.

      • True. But TPBYP had a better story, better acting and was just overall better regardless of genre and aimed accomplishments.

      • I am with you.But what about a movie like this, witch has less character development than an episode of csi,and a plot twist you can see from the pop corn stand.I can’t apply your logic to this movie, because i failed to see what this movie was trying to accomplish.

  8. The best looking and sounding rubbish I’ve ever seen. A terrible movie. Buy the soundtrack

  9. Oblivion is a stunning, visually composed film, overall favoring story over spectacle. Lacking an adrenaline rush, perhaps but still engrossing all the same. Classy and sophisticated throughout, it’s probably 2013′s best movie so far though we are early doors at the moment. Certainly will look to be the year’s most thought provoking blockbuster for sure.

    • This movie made you think really!. I would love to know what it made you think about.

      • It made me think that a movie with good pacing, acting and an engrossing storyline makes for a good watch , rather than endless action , CGI fuelled sequences.

  10. I liked it. While not a huge Tom Cruise fan, I thought he did well and was a likeable character. The story was decent, but a bit predictable. The reviews I had previously read were very lukewarm and I think the movie is a bit better than advertised. If you’re looking for a movie to watch this weekend this is worth taking a look at.

  11. What drew me to Screen Rant in the first place were the film reviews; but more so the comments which are invaluable as they are diverse. Whether the opinions expressed affirm or dispute the reviewer’s POV, the net result is equally intriguing and confusing — but overall absorbing and worthwhile.

    It’s rare when a single film review hits the nail on the head; Screen Rant’s comment section comes with a bag of hammers.

    • Well, film reviewing is subjective. Might just mean that our tastes don’t exactly line up (especially since three of us review films on the site). I’m actually a big proponent of people taking-in multiple reviews and finding reviewers that fit their taste – especially since there are so many voices out there on the internet.

      That said, I expect Oblivion will provide plenty of diverse points of view in the comments ;)

      • You know stuff. Any idea where that little girl got her American accent from. Given the fact she has been living in isolation with her french mother since birth.

        p.s loved the review of termoonatrix2001.

  12. Tell ya on Monday, off to see it with the good lady wife on Sunday.

    [one week till IM3 :)]

    • Okay first up I liked it wife didn’t (hows that for irony as SHE wanted to go see it)

      Don’t want to reveal any spoilers so won’t mention any specifics in the plot.

      1. Quite slow, but not enough to bring on tedium.

      2. Visuals and Soundtrack are awesome, nice to see actual sets not just CG-city and Iceland (where it was filmed) is beautiful in it’s desolation

      3. Not original in any shape or form. If you’ve watched any amounts of sci-fi / post apocalypic movies you’ll be 5 or 6 steps ahead.
      There was one reveal that I didn’t expect prior to going to see Oblivion but as the setup for it begins it was pretty obvious as was the payoff of that reveal at the end of the movie.

      Surprised you won’t be.

      It could be seen as some derivative dross, slow, boring and not doing anything new and I’m sure that view has been expressed here on SR but as with everything it’s a subjective thing.

      Wife didn’t like it, I enjoyied it, the tech, while nothing new is never the less well crafted, the performances are good with Andrea Riseborough the stand out cast member going through a wide range of emotions and conflicting instincts, the cinematography and the score are fantastic (gonna by the soundtrack) and for me there’s a lovely sense and feeling to the moive.

      With everything these days bigger, faster, more cg, more explosions more more more, there’s a nice……. innocence about this film that was a welcome change of pace.

      Won’t stand up to repeat viewing unless you want to marry your iPod but well worth at least a home rental but the sound design and landscape deserve your attendance at a theater.

      4stars ****

  13. I could only make it through the first 40 minutes of the film. I am both a sci-fi and action buff and this satisfied neither. Maybe I didn’t wait long enough but it was super boring.

  14. I really liked Oblivion. I gave it an 8/10 on imdb, which probably translates to 4/5 in Screenrant terms. The visuals were indeed great, so was the sound and the music, and the story held it all together nicely. Sure, Oblivion lifted a lot from other works, but which movie doesn’t do that these days? I prefer that approach over straight remakes any day.

    • There’s homage, there’s borrowing, there’s just plain stealing,Then there’s oblivion!
      or termoonatrix2001 as i am now calling it.

  15. It’s Skavs (as in Scavengers), not Skags…

    • Thanks. I actually had remembered the Scavengers connection but for some reason just had the abbreviation in my head wrong when I wrote the review.

      • Scags were those four-legged creatures in Borderlands. ;)

        • Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was where the confusion came from. I was just writing along and that word came out instead (twice). Ha!

  16. Didint really enjoy this one. Gotta say the visuals were really amazing but thats about it. Tom Cruise was good since i usually enjoy him in almost anything. Give this one 3/5

  17. Def wanna go see this one .. hopefully.. at real imax

  18. Question!, did anybody see this in real imax theater? Does this movie fill up the whole 6 story imax screen whole time or it never does or what?

  19. Still undecided on this one. The visuals and soundtrack are tempting to me, and I don’t mind low quantities of action, but I am not a Tom Cruise fan. I wish that someone else was playing the lead, to echo another reviewer, someone with less baggage.

    Is it worth the price of a theater ticket to see it on the big screen even if I am not crazy about Tom Cruise, or am I okay waiting for home video? Is the story good? Because that is what has let me down on almost every recent sci-fi/fantasy/action film.

  20. Tom Cruise look is well-suited to this immaculate antiseptic landscape.
    I am happy to hear Tom delivers in the acting department on this too.
    If this is a film where the visuals can be hypnotic I’m ready to fall in.
    Nothing can be 2001 and no one missed the lack of action there.

    I have never seen this Andrea Riseborough babe before this.
    She’s like a slow-burning ember. Up close she’s smoking hot.

    I’m happy to hear you liked this well enough, Ben,
    and I’m looking forward to slotting this in later.

    • ‘Shadow Dancer’ I recommend for Andrea Riseborough, Sir.

      • Thank you, Ajeno! I was wondering what to explore that
        she’s done and I will definitely track that down and see it.

  21. I appreciated the effort that had gone into creating the aesthetic of the movie, but I cannot help but embrace the suspicion that this is all Kosinski can do. There was little emotional validity to the performances. For me, this is Cruise in autopilot, playing Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise. Morgan Freeman turns up playing Morgan Freeman for a few minutes and Olga Kurylenko set on one facial expression. Only Andrea Riseborough offers any real emotional characterisation in this movie I found.

    There is no doubt that Cruise can be a damn fine actor but I suspect it is only with directors that give little care to who he is. Kosinski comes across as being in awe of him, not demanding another take and just settling on a, “That’s great, Tom” proviso. It is clear to me who was in charge of this movie. Heck, we even had a scene where we see a wide of his scouting ship do something spectacular, then cut back to Cruise in the cockpit as if to say, “That was all Cruise what did that, people.”.

    It it also derivative of many. ‘Planet of the Apes’ runs through this movie and there are numerous references (a bizarre ‘Star Wars’ one of the scene where Vadar and co are chasing the rebels as they try to blow up the Death Star). Ultimately, it’s solid, but if offered little surprise to me in any aspect at all.

    Good review as always, Ben.

  22. I feel bad for the director since all the advertisements say “from the producers of Rise of the planet of the apes,” instead of saying the directors name. Why ? Since that movie made more movie then Tron its more successful ?

  23. I would go as high as 4 stars. Thought this was one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve seen in awhile.

    Derivative? Definitely.
    Obvious? In a lot of ways.

    Yet, there was still a great story at its core, with some great emotional payoff, as Ben stated. And it was pretty gorgeous in design and direction.

    Pleasantly surprising.

    • Your opinion is always welcome, Kofi.
      Now I’m even more enthused to see it.
      I was pre-sold on the production design.

  24. Spoiler :
    - The Plot Twist is very good.
    - Lots of Clones with false memories.
    - The final scene remind me of ID4.

  25. Ben Cancels Oblivion!!!!!! HA I’m just kidding. This is a fantastic review.

  26. Wow, I don’t think I agree with anyone about this movie. Half say its a rip-off of other S/F movies, which I don’t see at all and I’ve been a S/F nut since I stayed up til 5 every night reading Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 50s and 60s. This movie has great action. Nice romance. Not cardboard acting. Tom Cruise is excellent. Ulga Kuryenko was so much hotter than in Bond. Everything about the movie was really good except the plot. If you want to find out what the movie is actually about you have to read Wikipedia! REALLY! Either the writers blew it or they decided to shorten it and left out all the explanations. Which one is the clone of Cruise? Is he a clone or an alien? When do they say there are no Scavengers on Earth only humans? When do they say that the aliens made a whole bunch of Tom Cruises and used them to take over Earth. Why would the aliens have Tom think the humans won the war if they lost? There is a real lack of continuity of reasoning here. They needed to watch the movie after they made it and then sort it out so that everyone could understand the plot. Vanilla Sky was like this but not quite as confusing. Watch it and then read Wikipedia and tell me there weren’t at least 5 essential plot elements you NEVER got from the movie. I’d still give it a 4 of 5. Entertaining and beautiful. They really have CGI DOWN nowadays. But why can’t they just take a little more time to get it right?

    • Im sorry, i found the plot very strait forward.

      They are all clones of cruise, there are no “skav” only humans. the only alien is the computer. there is a quote in the middle of the movie that landing ships land from the Tet, the doors open, and hundreds of thousands of jacks pour fourth (rather larger plot point)

      The aliens have Jack think the humans won to make them more bidable,

      Watch the movie again, it was laid out quite clearly thought the movie.

  27. Well, it was a rain-out for me tonight which is just as well.
    I’ll now be taking my nephew who “likes things about up in space”.
    His excitement reminds me I should just keep it simple and expect fun.

  28. Went and watched it opening day, was pleasantly surprised that it focuses on the characters and the mystery instead of the CGI.

    would give it a solid 4.5/5 starts

  29. Im becoming a big fan of the director. The movie wasn’t that original but loved the way the final pieces came together for the ending. For me, one of the best put together endings I’ve seen in awhile. Plus………..Awesome awesome soundtrack.