If you were truly cynical, and perhaps a bit nutty, you would think that North Korea had timed its threats against South Korea and America to coincide with Hollywood’s current attempt to turn the end of the world into a box-office hit. Perhaps Kim Jong Un received e-mails from Hollywood publicists to suggest that now would be a good time to warn of nuclear strikes given the new Tom Cruise movie, OBLIVION, coming out.
Hollywood is following Joseph Kosinski’s second big-budget film, which answers the question ‘how do you follow a blockbuster that no one liked i.e. TRON LEGACY’ with the answer, ‘another blockbuster that no one will really like i.e. OBLIVION’ with Will Smith in AFTER: EARTH and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s THIS IS THE END. Even British filmmaker Edgar Wright is in on the act with THE WORLD’S END. Wright’s vision begins with a pub crawl.
The current threat is like an April Fool’s joke go awry, one that is a bit early and has gone on far too long. The rhetoric is serious, the brinksmanship real, but it appears that the West is expecting Kim Jong Un to recede his threat and be sent to his room without dinner; he is like the comedy version of THE LAST EMPEROR, only not very funny and without Peter O’Toole to advise him.
Meanwhile what of OBLIVION? It is set in a post-Apocalyptic landscape in the 2070s. As Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) tells us, the world was invaded by an alien species that we subsequently defeated. (What, you mean the Russians and Chinese did not exercise their veto? That’s science fiction.) Humanity has now decamped to one of Saturn’s moons (‘Io, Io, it’s off to the other red planet we go’) but some humans are sent back to earth to ensure resources – water – is sent to Saturn, sucked up by huge metallic floating blocks that have a name, but I forgot it. For reasons that the characters – Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) - don’t fully explain, their memories have been wiped. Jack recalls fragments of a past life, sunglasses, leather jacket – the TOP GUN sequel thwarted by the death of Tony Scott, perhaps? He and a woman (Olga Kurylenko) walk towards the Empire State Building. They look out and we muse: is this the sequel to TO THE WONDER?
Jack also tells us that something remains of the aliens, Scavs, short for scavengers, who live on the ground – Jack and Victoria live in a floating home above the clouds with all mod-cons, including a swimming pool for those naked swimming ‘I would like sex but this is a PG-13 rated movie so I’m going to prove that I’m clean and graceful’ moments. Wait! Is this a sequel to PAR DELA LES NUAGES?
Jack and the sucking equipment is protected by drones, not the one strike missiles currently used by the American military but ones that look like a cross between the orb that Luke Skywalker faces when he is training blindfold to use a light sabre (I really such make my references less verbose) and a machine gun turret (those guns that were on the surface of the Death Star). Power cells from the sucking equipment have fallen into the hands of the Scavs, mission control (Melissa Leo) reckons nine, but Victoria says ten. One a repair mission – Victoria is always moaning about the absence of shields – Jack encounters a difficulty. He tells Victoria pointedly, ‘they weren’t trying to kill me, they were trying to capture me’.
The Scavs themselves look something out of PREDATOR, and there is a specific visual reference to PREDATORS when a set of spotlights are trained on targets.
There are two ‘game changing’ events. One occurs when Jack finds a group of human survivors frozen in pods and recognises one of them (Kurylenko) from his dream. The other is when Jack is eventually captured by a cigar smoking Morgan Freeman. At this point, I am sure Universal Studios and the filmmakers would like me to say nothing more about the plot, which takes various twists and turns. Answers, Jack is told, lie beyond the danger – sorry, radiation – zone. (Cue song: ‘Danger Zone.’ I could not resist a TOP GUN reference there.)
‘Are you an effective team?’ Jack and Victoria are constantly asked? This is a strange question. Although Tom Cruise movies like the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series purport to be about teamwork, Tom Cruise movies are really about Tom Cruise. Here, he is positioned as a saviour of the Earth. Come to think of it, is not this slightly reminiscent of BATTLEFIELD EARTH, based on the ‘novel’ by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, minus of course John Travolta in dreadlocks?
The film’s money shots are deserted iconic landmarks covered in dust: the tip of the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and Yankee stadium. Jack even gets to reminisce about a football game. He has a strange desire to remain on Earth and has built a country cabin in the woods. In a normal Hollywood movie that would be the location for a manifest evil. Instead, here’s Tom Cruise and he’s smiling.
Ultimately, the film features triangular metallic structures that reflect a love triangle between Jack, Victoria and Julia. It throws in left field elements that allow Jack to make the ultimate sacrifice and enjoy his retirement home. There are children too – how’d that happen? The future tech is impressively done, though there is a ‘drones verses skyflyer’ sequence that is reminiscent of STAR WARS. Cruise acts his part with perfectly styled hair – not a hint of grey – and boyish humour, but he doesn’t allow any actor to appear opposite him as his equal. Tom Cruise films can seem hollow experiences and OBLIVION is like a Kinder egg with a plastic inner shell but no toy.