Film Review: Oblivion


The year is 2077 and Earth has been attacked by aliens known as Scavs who have blown up the Moon. In retaliation, world leaders decided to release nuclear weapons, defeating the Scavs but effectively destroying much of the planet. Humans have since left for a giant space station known as the Tet and the Saturn moon of Titan, although Technicians remain to oversee mining of the Earth’s remaining resources. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one such Technician, living with his communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). However, when Jack is captured by the Scavs, everything he thought he knew is turned upside down.

The scale of Oblivion is vast, and despite an apocalyptic setting, much of the film doesn’t feel beyond the realms of possibility. The scenes based on Earth, which is most of the film, feel real enough to buy into the story, creating a setting that feels alien but at the same time familiar. This is helped by the film’s unbelievable visual effects. There are few individual instances that stand out but the whole minimalist aesthetic is just impeccably realised.

Oblivion is most certainly not short of ambition, but ambition isn’t enough; it needs to be backed up with substance, which is perhaps it’s biggest failing. A handful of scenes have no importance whatsoever (see scene in the swimming pool for an example) and the motivations of the characters are seemingly non-existent. The film’s set pieces, big reveals and final climax feel just a little hollow and don’t hit home as perhaps they should.

The characters and their relationships are also paper-thin, particularly Olga Kurylenko’s Julia, a survivor from a crashed spaceship somehow linked to Jack’s past. Andrea Riseborough does an admirable job with what she’s given, whilst Cruise, well, he just plays Tom Cruise. Morgan Freeman’s role here is also entertaining enough but his very limited screen time gives little room to work in. It could be argued that there’s a narrative reason these characters and relationships don’t feel fully developed, but it only really succeeds at keeping you at arm’s length rather than pulling you in.

Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) has stated that Oblivion pays homage to the science fiction films of the 1970s, but it’s evident that inspiration has come from films spanning more than just the one decade. You don’t have to look too closely to see nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Star Wars, and various others. Some are so blatantly referenced that it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between homage and a simple dearth of originality. However, that’s not to say Oblivion doesn’t have at least some identity of its own. Its setting feels unique enough to work well, even if some of the aspects within it do not.

Oblivion feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity; there was the potential here to create something dark and mysterious rather than something that feels slightly ‘Disneyfied’. However, it’s a little unfair to judge it on what it could have been rather than what it is, which is a solid sci-fi film that doesn’t have anything that truly spoils it, but equally nothing that truly makes it stand out. It could easily have been a great, memorable sci-fi adventure. Conversely, it could just as easily have been just a generic vehicle for Cruise. As it stands, Oblivion sits somewhere in between.

3 pigeons

3/5 pigeons

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36 thoughts on “Film Review: Oblivion

  1. Garrett says:

    Haven’t seen it yet, but I keep hearing that it “steals” from tons of other sci-fi movies. I think I’m just gonna go and try to enjoy it anyway. Very nice review.

  2. I can’t bring myself to pay money to see this at the cinema… but then the two things it seems to really have going for it are it’s stunning visuals and score… so if I don’t see it on the big screen then I’m missing the best bits! Ah, the dilema.

  3. filmhipster says:

    The opinions on this film all over the place. I don’t know who to believe!!!! lol

  4. keith7198 says:

    Good review. This seems to be the popular take on this film but I’ll stand with it a bit more. I was quite intrigued and absorbed in the story. The nods didn’t bother me because I bought into the film’s setting and the direction it was taking me. My issues with it were more related to wasted characters and a few wasted money moments.

  5. theipc says:

    I’m with Chris – the reviews of this are ALL OVER THE PLACE!! I’ve settled for “Friday Night Beer Movie For Free” : )

    Great work!

  6. CMrok93 says:

    Inspired with it’s visuals, but sadly not with it’s script. An experience that I totally forgot about seeing right away afterwards. Good review.

  7. Mark Walker says:

    Another mixed opinion on this one. I quite fancy it but my hopes are not high. Fine write-up Chris.

  8. claratsi says:

    another reasonable review of this, nice one. I gave it 3 if you care to check it out. Happy to see another balanced review after seeing some generous scores if I’m being honest, but I can see reasons for loving it. You point out it’s paper thin in parts, I agree, had hallmarks of being a classic but just didn’t do it’s own thing. A missed opportunity as you say.

  9. ruth says:

    We’re pretty much in agreement on this one Chris, I gave it a 3.5 mostly for the visuals and the relatively decent pacing, but yeah I agree that “the characters and their relationships are also paper-thin” Glad you like Andrea too, she’s gonna be the new actress to watch now, she’s quite versatile. I was slightly impressed by Olga than before, but yeah, Cruise and his movie star wattage is nothing new, ahah.

    • I think a lot of us are on the same wavelength with this one – it’s not bad and looks pretty but isn’t anything special. I wasn’t that impressed with Olga to be honest, she was really quite boring, although that might have just been the writing of her character, I’m not sure.

  10. sati says:

    I think I’ll wait for DVD to see this one after all. I hear Nikolaj Coster Waldau only has 5 minutes of screentime, so screw that 😛 Glad to read Riseborough is good, she is such an underrated actress.

  11. Nick Powell says:

    I’ve continued to hear mixed things from you and several other bloggers. At least it’s not terrible, but with the buildup and such, you kind of expect more, especially with Cruise in the lead. Still, can’t wait to see it myself.

  12. I dont know how much potential for greatness it had… there’s a part of me that suspects they got everything out of it that they could. It still wound up a decent watch for me, even though you’re right, some of it does “ring hollow”. 😮

    • I think it had the foundation of a much better film, there’s a great core story there. I just don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it though, I most certainly did. I just believe it had more potential than that.

  13. Popcorn Nights says:

    Haven’t seen it yet but will probably wait for the DVD based on what I’ve read. Nice review though Chris, I’m certainly interested to see what this looks like as the design of the film sounds intriguing. Have never been a Cruise fan, but I can sit through one of his films if it’s decent enough.

    • Thanks Stu. The design is really good, it looks superb. A rental is fair though, especially if you’re not 100% sure about it. There’s nothing bad about Cruise in this, it’s just another very similar role to what we’ve seen him in before. I’d like to see him go for something with a little more substance behind it though.

  14. Nice review Terry, I think I liked this better the first time I watched and it was called WALL-E. 😉

  15. I think I’d give it the same rating as you. It didn’t do much for me really. Freeman was underused.

    I agree with what you said here, “Oblivion feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity; there was the potential here to create something dark and mysterious rather than something that feels slightly ‘Disneyfied’”

    • Freeman was definitely underused. He was just there to have a big name other than Cruise involved. He was decent enough but pretty much anyone could have played that role. I’d liked to have known a lot more about him and the other Scavs.

  16. Dan Heaton says:

    I enjoyed Oblivion more than you (3.5 for me), but I agree with a lot of your points. I was really drawn to the music and visuals, and the mystery was interesting. The big reveals worked in the theater, but they were really on the nose. I’m writing a piece about it at the moment, and my views did go down a bit as I considered the main themes and key scenes. I liked it overall and am glad I saw it, but it’s a bit too direct to rest among the great sci-fi films of recent years.

    • I agree the music was really good, I forgot to mention that in my review. I think the big reveals worked to a point but I wouldn’t say they blew me away or anything. I watched Moon recently and that has made my opinion of Oblivion go down a little; the similarities are unbelievable!

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