I remember a discussion I once had with a good friend about the importance of a good screenwriter versus a good director. As a writer, I was of course defending the side of the script, while he argued for the need of quality direction. I’ll always remember what he told me: A good script can be ruined by a bad director, but a good director can save a bad script. In an interesting, and perhaps even tragic twist of fate, Oblivion tells the story of a promising director attempting to salvage his own bad script, based on his own comic book.
The previews for Oblivion seemed to promise something both simple and satisfying; a reliable sci-fi action picture, not too challenging, but still a good time. The film starts off right on this track, with a mediocre script being held up by good camera work, nice art direction, and quick pacing. Sure the storyline is basically Wall-E with the adorable robot being replaced by Tom Cruise looking exactly like he has for nearly 30 years, but there are all the aliens, guns, and spaceships we need for a good time. Then come the twists.
Oblivion leaves the safety of a straightforward action flick, and descends into using cheap twist after cheap twist, the worst of which is an almost heinous theft from 2008’s Moon. Cruise’s character begins to notice some peculiar things happening in his routine life of fixing drones and shooting aliens, culminating in a crashed spacecraft in which he discovers a mysterious woman, and before long his friends start looking like enemies and vice versa. Unfortunately, the film never makes its way out of exposition and into development, so it just feels like we’re having new information piled on top of itself, without ever really understanding what any of it means.
To put it simply, the writers of Oblivion just aren’t as clever as they’d like to think. Every twist that was meant to bring a gasp was instead met with an eye roll or even a little chuckle. Any saving graces to the film are found in the likability of the actors. We all seem to have gotten over Tom Cruises crazy spree of a few years ago, and he is still a generally likable actor who knows how to keep an audience entertained. Morgan Freeman also does a good job hamming things up in a sadly underwritten role that leaves you wishing he got much more screentime. Of course in a post-apocalyptic world there aren’t a whole lot of people left around to fill out a story, and beyond the leads, the remaining characters more often than not fall into painfully token roles, although it is interesting to note that the only people left on Earth are all incredibly good looking.
Despite director Joseph Kosinski’s best efforts, there simply was no life support that could salvage Oblivion’s disaster of a script. The film is for the most part paced well enough to avoid being a complete bore, however a seemingly endless barrage of ridiculous twists derail what could have been a fun afternoon escape, with the whole thing going over a cliff by the third act. While Oblivion is likely far from being the worst movie of the summer, it is likely to be one of the most misguided.
My Rating: 1.5 Stars