April 18, 2013


When science fiction wants to present thoughtful subtext, it can’t go broad.  The freedom to construct a world has to come down to precise themes.  The world can be derivative (or “inspired by” if you want to be charitable), and the themes can be universal, but they have to be cohesive.  In casting a wide net for influences, Joseph Kosinski‘s Oblivion mashes-up the ideas from better movies, and doesn’t put them towards abstraction or ambiguity, but towards ambivalence.  The film is more concerned with its gorgeous visuals and rousing score while the emotions become lost in a shuffle of reveals and fragmented ideas.

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a service technician on a post-apocalyptic Earth.  An alien race has destroyed the planet by blowing up the moon, and while humanity ultimately won the war, the Pyrrhic victory has left Jack and his partner/girlfriend Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) as isolated survivors commissioned to maintain the drones in order to protect the fusion reactors that are carrying energy to a space station known as “The Tet”.  With only two weeks left to go on their assignment, a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) comes into their lives, and Jack discovers a series of revelations about the true nature of his mission.


Following Tron: Legacy, Kosinski has once again created a memorable world filled with fun technology, pumped up by an electronic-infused music (this time from M83), and hardly anything when it comes to characters and a strong storyline.  Without story and characters, you have concept art, visual-effect demos, and a soundtrack.  Taken on their own, those supporting elements are terrific, but they’re intended to serve a plot and world that ultimately feels cold and distant, and not simply because the setting is a wasteland.

The screenplay constructs an intriguing mystery, and has patience with its plot points, but those revelations have no impact because we’re never invested in Jack’s story.  Part of the problem comes from Cruise’s lack of chemistry with his co-stars.  The actor doesn’t feel like he’s bringing anything fresh to the role, and Kurylenko’s character doesn’t do anything independently of Jack.  Thankfully, Riseborough brings a spark of life to the picture by playing someone who can’t handle any disruption to her mission or her romantic relationship.  She clings to her ignorance like a security blanket, and feels hurt and confused when someone tries to tug it away from her.


If this kind of behavior were part of a consistent theme of questioning authority, and over-reliance on organized systems in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle,  Riseborough’s performance would have an impact beyond giving the movie a pulse.  Instead, the film’s most accurate representation is when Jack goes into a sinkhole that was formerly the New York Public Library.  It’s a pit filled with knowledge, but strewn all over the place.  The scene is probably meant to convey the first steps of Jack’s awakening, but it feel more like the film’s overall construction: a bunch of scattered ideas in a desolate space.

After watching the film with a friend, he argued that the movie was about humans becoming subservient to technology and losing our humanity and individualism in the process.  That may be the case, although there’s an irony in celebrating humanity when the emotions are constantly dwarfed by the design and mystery.  Furthermore, because the movie so broad, it’s open to multiple, equally unfulfilling interpretations.  Jack and Victoria live in a gorgeous tower high above the ruined Earth, and their mission is to make sure that the drones can keep the aliens (i.e. “the other”) away.  So is this a societal critique?  A casual mention of a “memory wipe” at the outset of the film paves the way for the persistence of a soul, but this theme is too light to be taken seriously, especially since it’s handled in such a corny manner.  And for good measure, there’s also some existentialism that relies on a crucial plot reveal even though the reveal makes no sense.


Kosinski is beginning to establish himself as a director who manufactures rather than conjures.  He builds technically intriguing worlds, but they’re vapid and thematically ill-formed.  He uses a HAL-9000-inspired red-eye on the drones, but doesn’t understand that HAL 9000 works in 2001: A Space Odyssey as part of a complete subtext, and it’s a part that can’t easily be ripped out and plugged into another science fiction movie.  He knows how to edit a scene for drama, but never derives any emotion from it (granted, he gets no help from his lead actor).  The action scenes are perfunctory but never exhilarate.  Oblivion is function before form, and structure without substance.

Rating: C


Around The Web
  • mrperfect

    “The actor doesn’t feel like he’s bringing anything fresh to the role”
    Matt, you just summed up Tom Cruise’s entire career.

    • Anonymous


      • Albert


  • janks

    You may be looking too deeply into this film in my opinion. The film keeps you engaged the whole time and while it obviously borrows everything from all other sci-fi films that have preceded it, it was done well enough to keep you entertained throughout. Either way, it’s a massive step-up from Tron: Legacy, which was a snooze-fest.

    • Weeks

      Totally agree. I was engrossed and entertained. Movie critics often get too deep for their own good.

  • Might Ducks Goldberg

    Kosinski is all about wowing the viewer with visuals that’s it. It was the same with Tron legacy

  • tarek

    For Character Driven Stories, call Jim Cameron.

    I hated Tron Legacy. What a boring experience.

    • Morgan

      Like Avatar? Dances with Wolves 2.0.

      • tarek

        Avatar was great. I am eagerly awaiting for Avatar 2.0 and the upgrade of it ( 3.0 )

    • Oskars

      For me Avatar in 2009 was C- because of boring and predictable dialogue, and science for those with IQ below 100. Now it is D-, because i couldn’t watch it to the end, not even for special effects.
      The story was borderline fairytale-fantasy, not sci-fi. Pandora had no sicknesses, viruses or other usual patogens. But the worst thing – a primitive tribe was 100x too civilized.

      • tarek

        Oskars, I give you the oscar of the most intelligent guy on Earth.

        “Now it is D-, because i couldn’t watch it to the end”
        Oh I see…I gave also a D- to your comment beacause I couldn’t read it to the end.

        “The story was borderline fairytale-fantasy, not sci-fi.”
        Really ? And why isn’t it Sci-Fi ? Argument please

        “Pandora had no sicknesses, viruses or other usual patogens.”
        No one has claimed that in the movie, except you. And even though it was the case, Why would you have pathogens ? is it a rule ? It must be because you decided that?

        “But the worst thing – a primitive tribe was 100x too civilized.”
        Yeah. Shooting arrows is way too civilized of course.

  • Jay

    The vagueness of this review gives me hope for the film. It sounds like the reviewer didn’t understand it – like he was desperately trying to link his past film-watching experiences to what he was seeing on-screen, which means he wasn’t watching the movie.

    • Weeks

      Bingo. Go see the movie. It’s very entertaining, which is why we go to the movies, isn’t it?

  • Farzan

    I heard the movie was actually pretty good. Some of my friends from the U.K already saw it and said it was awesome. I can’t wait till Friday to check it out. Screw this review, the people at collider rarely ever like a movie judging from their past reviews

    • will

      Eh, it’s mostly Goldberg who doesn’t like anything. This time, I’m a little more inclined to agree with him, though, as he has Kosinski’s style-over-substance brand of sci-fi pretty well-pegged. He’s also right about Tom Cruise always playing Tom Cruise in his movies.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed I saw this and really like every minute of it…

  • George

    It totally liked the movie. Yeah, the visuals and the music are great and work well together,
    The most complaints I read, are about the coldness – in design and in the displayed emotions.
    I disagree, if especially considering the different aspects, past experiences of the leading roles. The memory swipe e.g., which is mentions in this article already.
    Maybe people get overall disappointed because the mvie is slow and cannot be called an action movie. It is too slow, to “quiet” at times. But still it has some good action moment in it.

    My serious advice: don’t read too much about the movie, hardly do not watch the trailers, you will get many spoilers already – especially when you think about it.
    Watch it in IMAX !!
    I you love SF, like 2001, end time movies, and atmosphere and you are open for an experience, then wou will like – or even love it.

  • Do you copy ?

    It’s much better when you rewatch it and imagine it’s about freemasonry, 9/11, brainwashing and middle-east oil invasions.

  • spongefist

    I find this hard to admit, since the little man is one of the all time worst actors, but I enjoyed the movie.

    Not bad at all. B+

  • LEM

    That poster looks like a SYFY original. Movies are getting really bad and relying way to much on effects and disregarding any real substance.

    • TJ

      I your second sentence you just described George Lucas as a director.

  • Barbafella

    Visually I loved Tron Legacy and this seems it would be even closer to the visual style I like- Mod futurism.Sometimes I’m very happy just to soak up the visuals,I prefer them with a good story,but it doesn’t always happen.I like his style,I like Olga and M83, don’t mind Tom either,so I’m in.

  • Guy

    As long as Tom Cruise is playing a character named Jack, I will enjoy the film.


    Visually stunning and masterfully scored = a fun night at the movies

    If you’re looking for earth shattering revelations or Oscar winning performances I would say avoid this film, but if you want to eat some popcorn and be entertained for few hours this movie is a home run.

  • Alec

    Whenever a movie starts and there’s voice over exposition, 9 times out of 10 you’re in for a bad movie. It shows the writer doesn’t understand what he’s doing and filling in plot holes at the beginning of the movie instead of revealing them through the characters. The movie was a jumbled hodgepodge of every single Sci-Fi plot ever done. The focus is clearly centered around the plot twists, every action that the characters make is in service of plot. Jack’s longing for an earth that was was only to humanize him when it was reveal that he was a clone, to make him stand out from the other clones. An idea which the movie promptly kills at the end.

    I could write a response just as long as Matt’s review but his review is correct and on point. Not fast enough to be a throw away action flick and not good enough to be a serious thought evoking movie. A “C” still might be too high..

    • Not true

      Or he is a smart writer who knows that exposition bores viewers, and instead of spending 10 minutes showing you something, he opts to hash it out for you in a minute or so.

      You can always tell the film students who couldn’t hack it on the message boards.

      • Weeks

        “Or he is a smart writer who knows that exposition bores viewers, and instead of spending 10 minutes showing you something, he opts to hash it out for you in a minute or so.

        You can always tell the film students who couldn’t hack it on the message boards.”


    • le pupe

      Haven’t seen the movie yet, but WHY IN HELL WOULD YOU SPOIL THE CLONE PART???

  • David

    When was the last time Matt didn’t give a big film a C? I think he is just a film snob.

  • Alondro

    Has anyone noted the big ‘exploded moon’ plot hole? The ‘aliens’ actually didn’t have the weaponry to do that. They used other means to defeat humanity. All too small to blow up the moon. And yet we see the moon blown up. That entire plot element was a fabrication, a red herring that remains utterly unexplained. As for earthquakes and ‘tsunamis’ caused by the moon blowing up… uhm, most of it is still there. In the same orbit. It’s gravitational effects wouldn’t be affected very much. And even if the moon just vanished, it would not have the catastrophic effects claimed in this film.

    I miss the days when sci-fi creators at least attempted to wiggle in some scientific plausibility.

    • Bill Graham

      You are creating an argument. Within this world, THAT’S WHAT YOU GO WITH. You can always break down logic and reasoning in a film. You can destroy it with a thousand scientific theories. But that doesn’t matter because they are creating a world, and in this world that’s what happens when you destroy the moon. Don’t bring your scientific hangups and aim them at a film that creates a reality of its own.

      *BUT ALIENS DON’T EXIST!* So what?

  • tarek

    If the moon is to disappear, there will be the extinction of werewolves.

  • Kaluha

    Better time at the movies than GIJOE 2 I can tell you that…

  • Bobby

    Dude, Risebourough was a clone! She had no real emotions. That is why Cruise asks her one last time to go down to the planet. She gives the same canned answer. see the movie again!

    • Bob

      That is not why she said no. She said no because thats her type of character. It’s who she is. To stick to the mission and not give up or bail out. They show this in the scene when she’s in the spaceship with Cruise and she won’t abandon her post and give up on the mission and evacuate.

  • Oskars

    Just came from the movie, best shot and edited Sci-fi I have ever seen. The soundtrack was titanic too.

  • pariwat

    so very interesting movie exciting and wondering well

  • The Blue Elephant

    Loved this movie, 4 out of 5 stars. Amazing visuals and music and I liked the story, had a couple of twists I didnt see coming, though my friends predicted it.

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