Despite some impressive visuals, Tom Cruise’s latest attempts to save the world could use some dramatic polish, writes BEN DALTON.
Directed By: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman
Running Time: 126 min
Tom Cruise’s latest save-the-world sci-fi bonanza looks like it cost all the money in the world to make: colossal rumbles, gigantic explosions and bare-bottom sauciness in a flying, glass-bottom swimming pool. This review will, then, attempt to explore why so rich an offering left an entire cinema quiet and indifferent at its close; some people just coming round from their various naps and others solemnly excavating popcorn from the darkest depths of their crotches. “I’ll have to sleep this one off,” grumbles my cinema-partner. “Like a hangover.”
Cruise pays Jack Harper, survivor of an alien attack that devastated planet earth and forced all humans to evacuate to a life elsewhere in the cosmos. Now, apparently sometime at the end of the 21st Century, Jack returns to earth to police its last remaining resources, protecting them from left-over ‘residual’ aliens. At the end of hard days blowing up things, Jack returns for moments of intimacy with his co-worker Victora (Andrea Riseborough) in their inexplicably luxurious airborne apartment. Jack’s memory has been (conveniently) wiped, but when he stumbles across another human survivor Julia – played by recent Bond-girl Olga Kurylenko – she evokes in him old memories which lead him to the realisation that all may not be how it seems.
Director Joseph Kosinski presents us with a puzzlingly out-of-date vision of the future; how our parents thought the next century might look thirty years ago. Everything is startlingly white and clean, and boasts – please hold your applause – touch-screen technology, proving once again that Apple’s design dominance stretches into the post-apocalyptic future. And yet, the gadgets adorning Jack’s kitchen don’t look dissimilar to appliances you might pick up at Maplins during the January sales; blenders, power-shavers, maybe one of those battery powered neck massagers. Whilst watching Cruise strut around his dining room in an immaculately dry-cleaned space suit, I felt myself longing for a dirtier future with more soil and maybe a few more cuts and bruises. What happened to the grainy exhaust fumes of Minority Report?
Whilst Kosinski’s visual future doesn’t seem to have surged forward more than a good couple of months, other aspects feel head-scratchingly old-fashioned. Feminism for example, seems to have taken a serious hit: Whilst her significant other flies off to kill bad guys, Victoria stays at home, sitting at the computer in a Desperate Housewife style cocktail dress and high heels. Upon his return, she takes to the kitchen in an apron to prepare him a ham sandwich before dutifully stripping off and performing naked jiggles for him in front of the swimming pool. Even the true love interest of the film, Julia, remains quiet and underdeveloped. At one point she romantically reminisces on Jack’s proposal in New York, at another she poses in a post-coital baggy t-shirt, and at the end she even has a baby. Caught in some sort of bizarre, pre-suffrage love triangle, polygamous Jack seemingly wants his women in their place. And what dry viewing this makes for.
The outrageously dramatic landscapes adorned with arguably competent visual effects – which could have been among the film’s stronger points – are unfortunately rendered tacky, and in some cases comically redundant by the superimposed form of the newly divorced, middle-aged Tom Cruise. At one point, we see him straddle a motorbike, pull a pair of what can only described as Speedo swimming goggles over his eyes, and race off into the distance, whilst the techno-pulse of the soundtrack ups its ante in the background. This scene felt less like the accumulation of multiple sci-fi orgasms the director clearly had in mind, and more like catching your father doing Clint Eastwood impressions in front of the mirror whilst thinking no one was looking. The film’s inability to take itself any less than deadly serious makes such moments inexcusable, whereas we would hope that poor ol’ Dad can growl “Go ahead, make my day” an ounce of self-irony.
However, it’s not all bad news. The score, composed by French electronica duo M83, is a fun, if unashamedly Ministry Of Sound party mix. You might think that the film was being DJed live, with the incessant electro surge never quite leaving the dialogue in peace. It’s the kind of music that’s really good if very, very loud and yet absolutely pathetic if quiet. Hope to God then, that your cinema has good speakers as it is sure to make everyone’s bottoms feel sexy in their seats.
Lovers of Sega arcade games will appreciate some of the chase scenes, where the camera is afforded a first-person view through Cruise’s helmet, chasing after the baddies and locking onto them (with red circles appearing around the targets, making life even easier), before blowing them up. Unfortunately, I’m sure many of my co-viewers would have been in agreement that this particular video game might have been more fun had we had the controls.
Oblivion feels like that essay that you spend days and days writing, only to get a shit mark at the end. The plot has tangibly been thought, over-thought, and finally teased into the intricate mess to be seen on screen. A mess that unfortunately leaves no time for character exploration (including a particularly cut-and-paste Morgan Freeman who is pushed onto the stage as quickly as he is pulled back off), no time for any worthwhile struggle, and no time for us to even care about the fate of our own planet.
The soundtrack did have me dancing well into the end credits, however.