$200 Reviews, #5: “Oblivion”

Oblivion Movie 2013 - Oblivion Movie 2013

“And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”
– “Horatius” by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay


Jack Harper (Cruise) is one of the last few drone repairmen stationed on Earth. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying threat known as the Scavs, Jack’s mission is nearly complete.

Living in and patrolling the breathtaking skies from thousands of feet above, his soaring existence is brought crashing down when he rescues a beautiful stranger (Olga Kurylenko) from a downed spacecraft. Her arrival triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything he knows and puts the fate of humanity in his hands.

      Verdict: Buy

       If you know me, then you are familiar with how sentimental of a person I can be, sometimes to a fault. Whenever I see a movie, hear a song or read a book which captures the right amount of longing for a distant yet familiar past, with hope for the future, it can go a long way for me.

      None of the movies released this year, including “Iron Man 3” and “Star Trek,” the sci-fi action movies everyone, including myself, have been excited for have tapped into that special place in my film loving heart.

   But Tom Cruise’s latest, “Oblivion,” written and directed by “Tron: Legacy” helmer Joseph Kosinski, is the movie that has.

   Adapted from an unpublished graphic novel written by Kosinski, “Oblivion” takes us to Earth circa 2077, nearly 60 years after the alien race, “Scavs,” destroyed the moon and invaded the planet to sap it of all its natural resources for its home world in a plot-point reminiscent of “Independence Day.”

    My early preconceptions of “Oblivion” were that it would be the closest thing we’d ever get to a live-action of version of “Wall-E” (2008). The post-apocalyptic setting and the arrival of Olga Kurylenko’s character Julia from space are the only real tangible similarities outside of Jack’s penchant for taking souvenirs from the wasteland back home.

   While many have issue with Cruise’s off-screen life, I’ve never let that dampen my appreciation for his movies, even if he presents the same persona in every one. While he hasn’t aged a day in 25 years and is about as “A-list” as you can get, I’ve always put him in the group of actors that can convey a sense of the “every man.” He does it best here in a scene, which happens to be my favorite, where Jack has stopped at the remains of a football stadium in what used to be New York to repair a downed drone.

   With his partner/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) listening on an open com, Jack recounts the events of what can be interpreted as the 2017 Super Bowl. He’s not recounting it from his own experience, but from an account he read somewhere while exploring the wasteland. What makes the scene so intriguing for me is Jack is telling the story of the game as if it’s a legend, a story seemingly passed on through the generations.

    This happens in real-life with any sports fan, but Cruise makes it feel as if he’s telling you an epic story from ancient times while sitting around a camp fire. Jack is in awe of events he never saw and for me made the scene the heart of the movie.

   Kosinski, who made the visuals in “Tron: Legacy” one of the few things to write home about in that movie, outdoes himself and most of the films already released this year. Where it seems most movies go to great lengths to create incredible worlds but fail to let the audience appreciate the details, Kosinski lets you explore the environment he and effects company Digital Domain crafted through the eyes of Jack.


    “Oblivion” is also aided by having an impressive, albeit small supporting cast in Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko. Freeman once again he’s the best at summing up a great deal of exposition in the simplest way for the audience. Andrea Riseborough is a nice counterpart to Cruise’s curious Jack. She wants nothing to do with the remains of Earth and cares nothing about her past. Victoria is an uneven character, shifting between sympathetic and annoying far too often.

   While Freeman might be an expert at delivering exposition, the movie itself isn’t always subtle. Many of the films bigger emotionally driven revelations are telegraphed in the opening moments of the film thanks to a painfully obvious dream sequence that could have been done away with entirely. Aside from that, the movie’s pacing is pretty good, giving you a nice blend of clearly choreographed action,  and personal, dialogue driven sequences.

   I was really impressed by what Kosinski brought to the table with “Oblivion,” especially after the disappointment that was “Tron: Legacy.” While “Iron Man 3” was decent and “Star Trek Into Darkness” was good in its own right, “Oblivion” has a better story with more motivation, helping it earn the title of my favorite movie of 2013 so far.


  • I was so impressed by Kosinski’s vision, I don’t think it would hurt to give him the director’s chair for one of the upcoming installments of the new Star Wars trilogy.
  • Speaking of Star Wars, Michael Arndt, the man responsible for writing Episode VII did one of the final rewrites on “Oblivion,” which puts a few of my reservations about hiring the writer of the “Hunger Games” sequel and “Little Miss Sunshine” at ease.
  • The score by M83 is impressive, more so than Giacchino’s for “Into Darkness” which was felt like a rehash of the 09′ film’s score.

About Daniel McFadin

NASCAR writer for NBCSports.com. Former Sporting News intern. Graduated from IUPUI in Indianapolis with a master in sports journalism in 2014 and from Arkansas State University in 2013 with a degree in Journalism. Originally from Lewisville, Texas, now in Fort Worth. Ask me if I like Star Wars. I dare you.
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2 Responses to $200 Reviews, #5: “Oblivion”

  1. CMrok93 says:

    It started off fine, but somewhere along the line they lost the desire for originality and did just enough to pass off the sci-fi elements so they weren’t infringing copyrights. Nice review Dan.


    • I’m of the opposite, I thought it started extremely rough with too much exposition (which is repeated later in the movie) before really kicking into gear. The movie’s gotten a lot of criticism for “ripping off” other films, but what movie doesn’t do that? I don’t think it was ripping off more than paying homage to to the past.


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