'Oblivion' Movie Review: Tom Cruise Plays It Too Safe


Here's Tanure's first rule of cinema: the higher the budget of a film is, the more likely it is that the film will suck. Is your mind blown yet? Don't bother stealing that idea, though — I was so astonished by my own genius in coming up with such an original insight that I immediately secured the patent for it.

Yeah, OK, I know I'm not the first one to notice that, but what I mean by it is not that the movie will suck because the expectation for a return of investment will demand that the end result appeals to as many audiences as possible, thus rendering it bland and commonplace. That's a huge part of it, yes, but, more importantly, money is a hindrance to a film's quality because real creativity can only come from duress. People normally are very lazy, so they are only creative when they are forced to be. If you have every known solution to a problem at your disposal, why would you feel the need to come up with a new one?

Moreover, if you paid a huge amount of money for those solutions, it's likely that you'd feel at least a bit guilty if you didn't use any of them. You can almost picture your mom chastising you for making her buy all those toys just so you could leave them all in the corner of your room while you play with the pillow with a smiley face that you doodled on it with a ballpoint pen.

That's why relatively low-budget science fiction movies like District 9 and The Host (the Korean one) are much more interesting than, say, Avatar, which didn't have a budget so much as a full-on GDP.

And that's the curse of Oblivion, the new sci-fi actioner from Universal Pictures starring Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko. The director was so afraid to seem ungrateful toward the enormous amount of people behind the special effects and graphical design that he gave foremost prominence to all of the hard work they put into his film, to the point of being a detriment to everything else.

Every single gadget and environment gets top-billing when they are onscreen. There's never any subtlety in showing any of the futuristic doo-hickeys created for the film, and the sad part is, they aren't much to look at either. The production design follows the philosophy that everything in the future will look like it could be attached to a Nintendo Wii. I miss movies like The Fifth Element where the spaceships and weapons were all blocky and unwieldy, making it look less like I stepped through Steve Jobs' looking glass.

The story? Aliens known as “Scavengers” invade Earth and blow up the moon as an added bonus, screwing up the weather and people's haircut schedules as a consequence. Humanity eventually manages to nuke them away but the planet is laid to waste in the process, so the remnants of civilization tear ass to one of Saturn's moons in order to rebuild society from scratch. 

They leave, however, massive energy harvesters back home that will provide fuel for the moving trucks. Commander Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), with the help of his girlfriend vika (Andrea Riseborough) is a glorified repairman tasked with babysitting the drones that protect those harvesters from the leftover Scavengers living underground, but he starts to realize his bosses may not be entirely on the level with him when he finds a fallen shuttle containing several human pilots in suspended animation, among them Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a woman that eerily resembles someone he dreams about all the time. He should have taken the hint earlier, though, when he was forced to have his memory wiped in order to get the job.

You know that Tom Cruise character from that Tom Cruise movie? Yeah, that's what Jack Harper is like: a reckless and boyish gallant who is somewhat of a loose cannon when it comes to following orders, making one wonder how the hell he passed the muster for the job in the first place.

Besides the aforementioned creativity problems, Oblivion suffers also from something the specialists like to call “a shitty screenplay.” Have you seen more than two movies in your lifetime? Then you won't have many surprises during this one. There isn't a single flicker of audacity to be found throughout the film. Not from the story, not from the narrative, not from the acting, not from the characters. To say that Oblivion likes to play it safe wouldn't do justice to its impressive over-zealousness with itself. This is a movie that went through a sterilization chamber eight times in a row before reaching theaters. You almost want to watch it in a hazmat suit to avoid soiling it with all your filthy humanity. It's admirable, really. By the end you will feel cleansed of all your excitement.

But for all its flaws, it's still better than doing crossword puzzles in the food court or breaking up with your girlfriend, so I recommend it in case you have absolutely nothing better to do. It won't be a waste of your two hours. As a filler, it does the job quite well.