Oblivion is a Tom Cruise film. It’s a very Tom Cruise film. It features lots of close-ups of Tom Cruise’s face. Tom Cruise stands heroically looking at things on several occasions. The full nature of just how Tom Cruise-y Oblivion is can’t be revealed without giving away some plot twists, but trust me, it’s very Tom Cruise-y.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I quite like Tom Cruise. When he’s in the right kind of film he performs admirably. The Colour of Money, for example. The Firm. A Few Good Men. Mission: Impossible. In all of those Tom Cruise is very good, and they are very enjoyable films (to varying degrees, when it comes to the M:I movies). He’s even pretty good in the unfairly maligned “Tom Cruise almost defeats Nazi-ism” film Valkyrie.
And Oblivion is another film in which Cruise is actually pretty well cast – something he probably needed after being woefully miscast in Jack Reacher, a film which demanded a Clint-Eastwood-of-30-years-ago type performer. If anyone is less like Clint Eastwood than me, it might be Tom Cruise. Anyway, Oblivion. It’s got Tom Cruise in it and he’s quite good. So what’s the deal?
Years ago, Earth was attacked by some alien creatures (nicknamed scavengers, or ‘scavs’). Humans managed to fight them off but in doing so ruined the planet. We are now harvesting Earth’s few remaining resources while slowly moving the survivors to a new home on Saturn’s moon Titan. Tom Cruise is a technician assigned the duty of repairing the drones that protect the giant resource-harvesters from the scavs.
Production note: the drones are very clearly modelled on the Zeroids from Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks:
Anyway, when a pod crashes back on earth containing someone from Tom Cruise’s past, the revelations keep on coming. I can’t really say more than that without unravelling the story for you. Let’s just say that all is not as it seems (Cruise’s world is rocked when he discovers all his co-stars are on strings).
So, the film blends a lot of fairly established sci-fi tropes and scenarios to create a pretty interesting scenario. If you’re well versed in sci-fi then nothing that unfolds will come as a surprise, but there’s nothing incompetent on view either. It doesn’t over-do the special effects – they all service the plot rather than being there for the sake of it – and it unfolds in a pretty organic manner. There’s a decent chase scene that thrills but doesn’t overstay its welcome. It is all pretty satisfactory.
The thing that stops it from joining the upper echelon of sci-fi films of recent years is the pacing. It’s just over 2 hours long – not a ridiculous length but still a good 20+ minutes shy of the ideal length – and I think it could regain much of that time, and thus give the plot some much needed urgency, merely by cutting out the 5 second gaps that seem to come between almost every line of dialogue. The film should be some schlocky sci-fi fun but it takes itself just that little bit too seriously, like it has something serious to say about the human condition. It’s ponderous.
An aside: the story is supposed to start in 2017. Ignore reference to this, it makes no sense. We won’t have deep-sleep stasis pods in 4 years time. Imagine every reference to 2017 is actually a reference to 2070.