Trailer: “Edge of Tomorrow”

Trailerlogo

Is it going to now become a rule of thumb for Tom Cruise to do the voice-over exposition whenever he’s in a Sci-Fi film? In “Oblivion” he said he was the mop-up crew… Now, he claims to be stuck in a Groundhog Day, where he’s forced to (as the film’s tagline goes) live, die and repeat, until he gets everything right.

II have to say that going by the visuals alone, “Edge of Tomorrow” (formerly known as “All you need is kill”, directed by Doug Liman) might be rather interesting. Based on a manga by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, it is supposed to be a Sci-Fi of the alien invasion variety, where a soldier (Tom Cruise) upon dying on his first day of battle discovers he’s stuck in a time loop and has to relive the last day of his life over and over again.However, with each single passing, he becomes a much better soldier…

At the minute, I’ll try to reserve judgement. Though, going by history alone, Tom Cruise lately doesn’t have a particularly strong record in delivering good quality entertainment. I din’t care much for “Jack Reacher” and rolled my eyes at “Oblivion”, but we’ll see soon enough. Meanwhile, enjoy the trailer.

“Edge of Tomorrow” opens on the 6th of June in the US and on the 30th of May in the UK.

 

“Man of Steel” – Kneel before Zod!

Now that’s a summer movie I’ve been waiting for! In reality I could end the review right now, because I have just shown my hand and, quite honestly, no amount of words will convey how awesome “Man of Steel” really is. Nonetheless, I think I’d like to say a little bit more on the subject.

Following yesterday’s screening of the long-awaited reboot of the Superman franchise I was so pumped I had serious difficulties focusing my thoughts enough to write the review and I spent a better part of the evening listening to the excerpts from the Hans Zimmer’s score to “Man of Steel” (which is epic, by the way, and come Monday there is no force in the universe that could stop me from buying the CD) wearing my Superman T-Shirt and feeling awesome and invincible. And before I get to the nitty gritty, I just wanted to say that this is what a superhero film is supposed to do to you; it ought to be the definition of ‘awesome’, epic and unforgettable. Clearly, Shane Black could learn a thing or two from Zack Snyder, because “Man of Steel” is everything that “Iron Man 3” isn’t. While it certainly has its flaws, which I’ll discuss later on, the film delivers on almost all fronts by being respectful to the iconic stature of Superman in pop-culture and all the while elevating his story to the proper modern standard.

The origin stories in superhero universes are almost invariably awkward – just as adolescence is in real life, I presume. In them one needs to provide enough background information for the story to actually count as an origin, but it needs to be done with some class so that it’s not heavy-handed. We all know how easy it is to desensitize the viewer by overloading him with data (“Oblivion” and “After Earth”, I’m looking at you, guys) and going for a sloppy brush-over job is not going to cut it any longer; it’s not the 70’s any more and we have the technical capabilities to give Kal-El a proper background story, without the cheap crystals, sheets and bathrobes. Moreover, “Man of Steel” – whilst clunky in the beginning in delivering the actual background – did give Superman solid foundation in his universe with very vivid interpretation of his home planet Krypton and the plot that led him to Earth.

man-of-steel-poster-2

In that spirit – for those who are unaware – it all begins on a distant planet Krypton. Jor-El’s (Russell Crowe) is born and it is a special affair. I shan’t reveal why that is, because by some it might be seen as a minor twist in the movie, but the newly born Kal-El needs to be protected at all cost. More so because his father – being an important figure in the governing structures – discovers that Krypton has become unstable and is going to explode, thus claiming lives of its inhabitants. No-one, including the ruling council, believes Jor-El’s gruesome revelations, apart from General Zod (Michael Shannon) who stages a coup d’etat to ensure the planet’s survival. Jor-El doesn’t trust the young and ruthless general and refuses to join him. Despite all that, Zod with his insurgents carry on what they started, but Jor-El gets killed in the process. He does, however, ensure that his son is sent off in a capsule headed specifically to Earth. The revolution gets thwarted in the end, Zod and his henchmen banished, and Krypton – according to Jor-El’s predictions – meets its untimely demise.

When Kal-El lands on Earth (somewhere in Kansas) he is found by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), who adopt him as their son and name him Clark. As the boy grows up, his other-worldly powers start to surface and make Clark into a social outcast. After years of living in solitude, drifting through the world and living under various aliases, Kal-El (Henry Cavill) gets a shot at understanding his past, his powers and his reason to exist. He tags along as a technician on an expedition where a young and ambitious reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is investigating a possibly alien artefact frozen in polar ice for millennia, which will turn out vital for Kal-El to become what he needs to become. And little does he know, that once banished General Zod, now brutally scarred, betrayed and hungry for retribution has found Kal-El’s refuge and will stop at nothing in order to claim his revenge.

This is why I think origins stories are difficult to get right: it takes 350 words to summarize 25-30 minutes of a film and I think I held myself back a little with the details and intricacies of the story. I would certainly understand that to some people the first act of “Man of Steel” feels a bit out of tune and needs a bit of time to start rolling, and by the time the final act is upon us, it’s gleefully steam-rolling through the screen in a sensory overload of epic proportions. However, I found the first act quite pleasing, as the very details of Clark’s coming of age are delivered through flashbacks and dreams instead of a blatant biopic-like borefest. While this approach feels fragmented and slows down the pace, it never really hurts the story as a whole, because meanwhile we get to see how Clark slowly becomes Superman by gradually learning to understand and love the people of Earth. I personally loved, how Zack Snyder and Dave Goyer chose to deliver Superman’s mission. While Kal-El is far away from being dark and edgy, he is no longer the clumsy Clark Kent, as portrayed by the late Christopher Reeve – Henry Cavill’s Superman is no mere superhero… He is not your friendly boy scout, for he is a messiah. By the way, when Clark finally finds his roots, hones his powers and comes to terms with his mission in life, he is 33 years of age – just like Jesus… And his character is led more or less in a messianic way, with selfless choices and sacrifices he is willing to make.

But that is not the best part… The best part is that “Man of Steel” finally delivers a Superman that we needed. It’s not as if I don’t appreciate Chris Reeve’s classic Superman, but the forty years that stands between us make him look… cute and adorable… “Man of Steel” gives us a Superman that – no questions asked – is faster than a bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. Henry Cavill’s Superman is the supersonic indestructible god it ought to have been for decades now. Thanks to technical advances in special effects, Superman is no longer a levitating guy in a red cape – he is a force of nature and any sequence with Kal-El in it is quite simply jaw-dropping. Indubitably, “Man of Steel” goes to ridiculous lengths to show us how gods would fight each other. Everything about this film is ultra-fast, massive, epic and packed with adrenaline. Whilst the first act is quite slow, dreamy, or even clunky, the remainder of the film compensates for it in a way you have never seen before.

On top of all that – the action and epic sequences – we can also find some solid acting in “Man of Steel”. Henry Cavill (first non-American to portray Superman) does a fantastic job at grounding Kal-El in the world he is in, so that it feels more natural to see him emerge as a god who would give his life to save his compatriots. While Cavill’s demeanour certainly fits the expectations, he surely doesn’t feel like a run-of –the-mill Chris Reeve lookalike, but breathes new life into Kal-El’s character and contributes vastly to the impact of “Man of Steel”. Amy Adams as Lois Lane very nicely adds to the picture. I didn’t seem to understand what her game really was for a while, because Lois Lane in “Man of Steel” is not just a damsel in distress any more (well, she is once or twice), but I think she is more of an embodiment of everything Kal-El is fighting for.

And the villain… Having a believable and scary villain in a movie is almost as important as getting your protagonist right. Michael Shannon as general Zod does a fine job creating a frightening and ultimately dangerous counter-balance to Kal-El. If it hadn’t been for certain one-liners and the initial insurgence plot-line, I would have thought Shannon’s Zod was close to the level of Ledger’s Joker, but he clearly had to grow into the boots he wore on the screen. While the older scary Zod is a fine villain and I have nothing against him, the younger Zod who revolted against Jor-El was quite artificial and laughable (almost like Commodus in “Gladiator”) and I couldn’t find him scary or threatening at all. On the other hand, that might have been the plan all along as Zod’s character seems to grow scarier in time, so that by the time we hit the climax, he’s got everything he needs. A late-blooming villain, but still…

In summary, “Man of Steel” has become my personal favourite Superman movie and it definitely is the biggest summer film for me. Well, until “Pacific Rim” is out, but that we shall see… Anyway, it is an all-round powerful sci-fi that recognises Superman’s mythos and is not afraid to bring something new to the table. The special effects are delicious and perfectly crafted and one can clearly notice someone has been taking notes from J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” with the lens flares, shooting against the light and super-zooming. Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon gave bang-on performances and only Russell Crowe looked to me as if he didn’t belong there quite as much. All this was covered with a thick layer of icing in a form of a powerful and truly epic score by Hans Zimmer, who has managed to slip in some uplifting crescendos in between the lines, so that the overall messianic feel of Superman’s mission was all the more elevated in the end.

By know I realized this article has become too long to be ended with finesse, so I shall say only this: “Man of Steel” turned out to be not only a great summer movie, not only a great Superman movie, but a very good movie in general. In fact, the film was so good that – contrary to what I normally say – I can’t wait to see the sequel…

 

 

“After Earth” – M. Night Shyamalan’s last ditch effort

Summer turns out not to be the most friendly time of the year – especially when you are a film. The competition is fierce and all kinds of high-budget productions roam the screens in search for box office revenue. Therefore, if you are not a superhero flick or a high-profile Sci-Fi (i.e. Star Trek Into Darkness), you’re bound to be fighting an uphill battle to break even. The struggle is even harder if your director seems to be cursed. Therefore, I think ‘mixed feelings’ is the most polite way I could describe my state of mind when I was about to watch “After Earth” this afternoon.

Normally, if somebody told me that a name like Will Smith was just attached to the upcoming summer Sci-Fi flick, I’d be in all kinds of heaven. Let’s face it – his name is almost a brand at this point with titles like “Independence Day”, “Bad Boys”, “I, Robot”, “MiB” virtually guaranteeing high octane entertainment and phenomenal box office turnover. Normally… but “After Earth” was not supposed to be normal, not by a long shot… Because this film was being created by none other than M. Night Shyamalan himself – and once you mention his name in public, everybody starts staring at you, as if you just farted in a church or something. I don’t intend to digress too much here, because I already have it planned for a different occasion, but one thing was clear the minute I learned Shyamalan was helming this upcoming Sci-Fi film with Will Smith in it – it was going to be something else entirely. And I wasn’t far off in the end, but not the way I anticipated.

There are a bunch of little things that make up the bulk of “After Earth”, but the general concept can be summarized in the following way: at some point in the future, the mankind has finally succeeded in destroying the planet. Therefore, humans had to evacuate Earth and move their civilization somewhere else – to a planet called Nova Prime, which is of course capable of supporting life. In order to organize the move and later to protect the people from various threats, an organisation called The Ranger Corps was brought to life where the finest warriors could play their part in keeping the mankind safe.

Fast forward one thousand years; Nova Prime settlements have been troubled by an alien race that uses monsters that sense fear to hunt down humans, and only thanks to General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) the Rangers were able to turn the tide of the war. It turns out that Cypher learned how to dismiss fear entirely thus making himself completely invisible to Ursas (the fear-sensing monsters). Once he started teaching other rangers how to master his skill, everything was more or less fine again and Cypher returned home a hero.

afterearth-internationalposter-full

Now, back at home his teenage son Kitai (Jaden Smith) is trying desperately to become a ranger himself in order to prove his worth to the very distant father – and he fails, not because he lacks skill, but he has problems following orders and keeping in line. Understandably, Cypher being the military-type strict type of father is utterly disappointed in his son and the gap between the two keeps widening. Only because Kitai’s mom convinces Cypher to cut the kid some slack, he decides to take him on what is supposed to be his last mission before retiring – a perfect opportunity for the two to have some time to bond. Unfortunately, nothing goes to plan and mid-voyage their spaceship gets badly damaged by an asteroid and crashes on Earth (quite conveniently; it is somehow explained in the dialogue, but I can’t recall the details now). The only problem is that Earth after a thousand years without humans is a dangerous place to live in – completely taken over by blood-thirsty animals that look at people the way people look at bacon.

It then turns out that Kitai and Cypher are the only survivors of the crash (with Cypher being badly injured) and the only way for them to contact their compatriots is to find a distress beacon that crashed somewhere else – a perfect opportunity for young Kitai to prove to his father once and for all that he could be a Ranger. In order to achieve that, however, Kitai will have to face all kinds of deadly animals, rapidly changing weather and an Ursa that had their ship had carried before it crashed.

Now that I have seen this film I can honestly say that M. Night Shyamalan felt a bit out of his depth developing a high-concept science fiction film and, as a result, “After Earth” is a very chaotic and uneven experience. Note here that I am specifically trying to use neutral wording in order to avoid jumping on the hate train. I realize it would have been much easier for me to go on a rant here and join the crowd, but I feel it would be unfair on my part, because – all things considered – I quite liked the film with all its flaws and shortcomings. Correction: not so much liked it, but I didn’t dislike it, if that makes any sense.

I believe it is only logical to start with the good bits. First of all, I think the father and son duo of Will and Jaden Smith will remain one of the strongest points of the film in general. For one thing, they naturally have some good chemistry going and most of the scenes with both of them in the room have this weird tension – in a good way. However, we don’t get to see those too much in the film, as the bulk of “After Earth” is simply Jaden running around alone in the jungle with his father watching his every step from the safety of the wreckage. Jaden on his own acts nowhere near as good as when he is with his dad and no amount of Will Smith’s solid acting could possibly make up for that fact.

The contraptions used by the characters are also nice additions to the film. From the biologically inspired design of the spaceship with its bone-like skeleton, squishy buttons and tissue-like membranes for doors, through the mutating suit worn by Kitai, all the way up to the shape-shifting Ranger weapon – all the props in the film are designed very interestingly. Also, the CG modelling of the Ursa was quite clever, although the concept alone of a creature that finds its prey by tracking its fear was a tad underdeveloped.

 

Well, that’s all, folks… I like the premise of the film as well and I secretly hoped it would trump the ghastly “Oblivion”, but “After Earth” didn’t quite deliver. While the concept alone was more or less OK and maybe I could buy it, in the end the film offered a bit too much bulls**t to swallow in one go. I really dug the political commentary of how the planet will force us out and make sure we don’t come back, but I feel the script (co-written by Shyamalan again) would have been better if it was developed by someone experienced in designing universes from the foundations up, so that it would be actually believable and not full of gaping holes. Even though most of Shyamalan’s films involve supernatural elements, he clearly is not cut out for a job of that calibre. As much as I like the guy and understand where he’s coming from, “After Earth” ended up smothering him completely. When it comes to twists and turns and putting the characters in peril, that’s all fine and, even though it is rather expected for the characters to come out alive, he had me sitting at the edge of my seat quite a few times.

Nonetheless, a good sci-fi needs a bit more than that. While it was perfectly OK for “The Sixth Sense” to concentrate on only two characters and more importantly on fooling the viewers, “After Earth” needed a completely different approach – one that it never got. It almost looked, as though Shyamalan was forced to direct it without being able to think it through, because neither the character dynamic is established well enough to drive the film, nor the sci-fi aspect is compelling enough to be believable. A good sci-fi either requires a fully established mythos that breathes life into the world, or it needs to be completely cut off and self-contained – with no middle ground. The middle ground is where the mediocre sci-fi films go to die. Of course, it is more than welcome to expand on the cut-off variation and introduce the world in sequels or in lateral plot points, but unfortunately “After Earth” cannot be successfully assigned to any of these categories. In the end, Shyamalan tried to cook two dishes at once and he burned them both.

And I haven’t even touched on the leaps in logic and poor understanding of science that served as foundation for the entire universe in the film. I think “After Earth” would have benefited from a bit more science and less fiction. Maybe it takes a mere thousand years for the earth to go completely green again with oxygen levels being weirdly too low for humans to breath comfortably! Photosynthesis much? Also, how can anything evolve to kill humans if the humans are not around any more? It’s impossible by definition and a thousand years is nowhere near enough for anything to evolve into anything else. Luckily, the animals in the movie look mostly normal… Clearly, nobody over there knew how to tackle Sci-Fi properly. Since we live in the 21st century, we require our Sci-Fi to be properly done and fancy costumes and spaceships don’t cut it any longer.

I dare say that “After Earth” was most probably an ‘all or nothing’ move from M. Night Shyamalan. Maybe the Smith family who produced the picture kept pushing the studio to film their project and Shyamalan’s name was attached to it, because no-one else would do it… I don’t know, but the entire thing smells fishy to me. I mean, it is not even a full-blown Shyamalan movie, but it’s truncated surrogate and I can only explain it by thinking that the producers had more to say about what goes in the movie than the director would have liked. Therefore, I think it’s unfair to flog poor Shyamalan any longer, because it might not have been his fault entirely for what “After Earth” ended up being. Love it or hate it, but this guy has his style of story-telling and in here I could barely see it, as if somebody explicitly told him not to do what he knows best…

In short, “After Earth” looks like a collection of clichés and well-worn ideas slapped together for the benefit of Will Smith and his son, dressed in poorly engineered universe and thrown into the hands of M. Night Shyamalan for him to make something coherent of it. A good artist can make music using anything for an instrument, but it won’t be a symphony… Don’t get me wrong, there are some good moments in the film and once the ball is rolling, the story develops some suspense (and this is what Shyamalan really knows how to do), but Sci-Fi needs more than that. Still, it was better than “Oblivion”…

The Sunday Rant

Right, so I thought I could use some venting. The years of indentured servitude one has to go through in order to become a scientist, all the while biting his tongue and pickling his emotions, have taught me that keeping things in can be at least referred to as unhealthy. So, as one might probably realize by now, I tend to rant. A lot. I like to think it’s therapeutic, but other than that I don’t really know.

Last week ended up being really interesting. I spent God knows how long waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the greatest (so far) stink-bomb of the year – “Iron Man 3”, because I really wanted to see how it is received globally. It would seem that here in Europe we’re mostly good guys and instances of brutally spoiling this film for our fellow movie-goers across the pond were rather scarce; if you don’t count Youtube – that place is just full of butt-holes, but who am I to talk… I sincerely hoped “Iron Man 3” would bomb, but quite expectedly people loved it. The critics write sonnets about how fantastic it was and the box office revenue reflects the popular (sigh!) vote; and that scares me.

I mean, I can understand that people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with this one, because the great Shane Black wrote the script for this piece of crap, but let’s face it: for the good of everyone around there should be no sanctity when it comes to art or entertainment. If Spielberg makes a s**t film – people should know, but it turns out that RDJ only needs flutter his eyelashes for everybody to fall hopelessly in love with Iron Man… Shame… And to think someone who brought us “Lethal Weapon” or “The Last Boy Scout” could contribute to this…

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who saw that (here’s a video rant from Peter Rallis), but still countless masses made Marvel and Disney think they’ve done it right, because the only thing that matters in here is money. They’ll make a lot of it with this one and I’ll bet you money right here and now that the PG-13 spirit of “Iron Man 3” will make its way to the next “Thor”, “Captain America” or the next “Avengers”. Who knows, maybe they all will feature little boys, Christmas themes and meaningless non-violent substitute for action. It’s not OK. If you want to see a good comic book movie – go and watch “The Crow” (I re-watched it last Sunday to wash the Iron Man off my brain). Actually, do it before they remake it in PG-13, because they are remaking it. Since R-rated movies are frowned upon, the teenagers moan and groan and people lose money, I’m afraid the remake might not be exactly dark.

Now, I could even try and come to terms with the superhero genre replacing the good old-fashioned action cinema, but if this is the way we’re headed – count me out. Now I’m literally dreading the release of “Thor 2”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel”, because what if they suck as badly as “Iron Man 3” did? And I need my action films to feel normal. I was raised with them and can’t imagine the world without them…

And in that spirit, and following the raging disappointment Iron Man had caused, I caught up with two films that had slipped through my fingers: “Jack Reacher” and “End of Watch”. Now, I really appreciate the effort, because lately it is rather difficult to see something relatively original leave Hollywood. Well, maybe not exactly, because “Jack Reacher” was based on a novel if I remember correctly, but then again adapting literature is nowhere near as bad as plastering numbers on films or re-heating old noodles are. I desperately tried to like it and as a result I ended up even more frustrated with it than I originally was. Somebody needs to tell Tom Cruise it is time to go. I appreciate “Rain Man, “Jerry Maguire” or “Vanilla Sky”, but enough is enough. Tom just can’t create a believable character for crime/action film any more. It’s all Ethan Hunt over and over again and the attempted noir atmosphere just doesn’t sit very well with him. Between this, the last “Mission Impossible” and “Oblivion”, I think I’ve had enough of Tom Cruise in action films.

“End of Watch” on the other hand… Now that was something else. It was brutal, violent, gripping, maybe a bit heavy-handed with all the flag-waving and police self-apotheosis, but at least it stayed true to the values of action/crime cinema. Maybe the found-footage thing was a bit sketchy, but hey… Everybody vlogs now, so why not the Mexican gangs… So, just because I can swallow a fair bit of pathos before I get sick, I wasn’t bothered by the ‘serve-and-protect’ nonsense. The dialogues were nice, Jake Gyllenhaal was awesome, and most of all when bullets flew, people got hurt. So that’s a plus, because I hate when movies show battles or gunfights and everyone’s OK (which is exactly what I saw in “Iron Man 3”, and no – I do not intend to stop bashing it, it deserves it). Plus, the entirety of the film takes place in a car or in its direct surroundings, so clearly no-one needs to blow up oil rigs or destroy CG-made cities to keep the adrenaline up.

In fact, even “Crimson Tide” (that I happened to re-watch this week as well) proves that you can put your characters in a can and use no effects whatsoever in a film, for it to be gripping. Flag-wavy, but still gripping… But then, Denzel Washington sort of drives the movie on its own, which is yet another piece of evidence that we need character-driven action films and not this plastic colorful flashy bulls**t.

Speaking of plastic colorful flashy crap, Lovefilm sent me “Skyline” this week and I don’t really want to talk about it. I had it on my rental list for ages, because why the hell not and now I got it. What a pile of crap that was… It should be shown to people in film schools as a reminder that special effects are not enough and special effects guys rarely make good directors. Notable exceptions of the like of James Cameron can only prove the theory as a whole, because no theory is complete without exceptions. I shouldn’t even speak about “Skyline” any longer, because it might be mistaken for a review, but I’ll say only this: even though it tried to look like good modern sci-fi with all the bling what-not, but the appalling story and wooden acting can make any good film look mediocre… And a mediocre film look terrible… And a terrible film unwatchable… Therefore, just to make sure I still like Sci-fi I quickly re-watched “Sunshine” and “War of the Worlds” (with the latter additionally easing my Tom Cruise pain, but Spielberg can actually direct actors so that they look convincing, so I don’t know) and everyone was happy again.

Still, when was the last time I watched some genuinely good Sci-fi? As much as I’d like to say “Prometheus”, I couldn’t live with myself for doing that. All the nonsense that went on in that movie has most probably stretched the whole thing into a trilogy, which Ridley Scott will never finish (because he won’t have a clue, how to make it look kosher again) and hence “Prometheus” should be promptly disqualified. But anyway… Good Sci-fi… Maybe “Battle LA” could qualify even with the tonne of pathos it carried, but I think the last time I was literally blown away by a Sci-Fi film was the time I saw “District 9” – four years ago!

But there is a silver lining to that, because Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters this summer, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to. And I can try to feel better about seeing “Star Trek” next weekend – hopefully it won’t suck.

Meanwhile, the Sunday rant slowly crept onto Monday territory and I think I can stop now. Maybe next week I’ll do something similar and I’ll see where it gets me.

Rant over.

“Oblivion” – That is where this movie belongs…

Either I have become increasingly cynical lately, or we’ve been having a profound problem with creativity in screenwriting in recent times. I realize I might have been rather critical when it comes to what I’ve recently seen in the cinema, but now I’m pretty sure that we’re just about scraping the bottom of the pot of creative ideas. Thus, every other movie that hits the screens seems to attempt to recycle ideas, dress them nicely and shove them down my throat without so much as a ‘how do you do’. I wrote before about that phenomenon and intend to do some more on the subject, but the way I see it, things are looking pretty grim. I know certain genres are sort of exempt from that trend (like horror, which I will get to in some time as well) because the apparent lack of freshness serves them well, but when it comes to Sci-Fi, a creative script is of a paramount importance for the movie to be successful.

Now, there are several kinds of Sci-Fi:

– instant genre-defining classics,

– good Sci-Fi that while not breaking new grounds offers an interesting take on things and/or is very visually pleasing,

– mediocre Sci-Fi that blatantly borrows and copies used up ideas and tries to sell them as new after having garnished them with something pretty,

– eye-stabbingly terrible Sci-Fi that is so poor that you really wish you hadn’t spent money on, as you fear you’d develop some sort of paranoid repulsion towards Sci-Fi in general.

Quite frankly, “Oblivion” fits right into the ‘mediocre’ pigeonhole, no doubt about it. It has a couple of things going for it, but generally speaking, my experience with “Oblivion” can be described with one word – indifference.

oblivion-poster

First things first; if you saw the trailers to this film, you probably already know too much about the plot (it is one of the most mind-boggling cases of revealing too much about the plot in 2.5 minutes). Anyhow, imagine that in not too distant future the Earth is a wasteland. It was attacked by an alien race of Scavengers (or Scavs, as the protagonists refer to them romantically) who destroyed our Moon, let the nature weaken us by destroying our cities through tsunamis and the like, and then proceeded with a full-blown invasion. Worry not, though – we won the war, yet a Pyrrhic victory it was – the Earth post-war became uninhabitable, therefore the remnants of the human race fled to Titan (understandably so, as it is the closest object to Earth that contains water on its surface) leaving behind only a handful of technical teams. These are responsible for managing and security of energy-harvesting rigs that use water to produce fuel cells crucial for the survival of humans in its new extra-terrestrial home.

Right, so the Earth is a nuclear wasteland guarded by ping-pong ball-like drones and aforementioned tech teams who maintain the drones. This is where we meet Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a technician paired with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) who spends his days patrolling his grid, repairing drones, fighting the Scavs and visiting landmarks. By the way, I would like to point out that someone might be interested to have a look at the materials used to build well-recognizable monuments. It is not the first time I see The Washington Monument, or the Brooklyn Bridge to survive major apocalyptic events in movies. Maybe there’s something about the quality of these materials that could be utilized for our benefit; maybe we should start building everything from the materials used to erect landmarks – we’d be safe for eons… Sarcasm over.

 

Where was I? Ah, yes. Jack spends his days patrolling the grid and stuff, getting off-com to kick back in his little shed he built and subsequently filled with memorabilia collected from various iconic places, and admiring the world that is no more in anticipation for his departure to Titan (which by the way he feels reluctant about, for some reason). He spends the nights hanging out with Victoria naked in a swimming pool, eating ready-made food with futuristic silverware, dreaming about the past world he has never seen and talking to himself… I mean, to us – the viewers… A lot…

Jack’s routine is brutally severed when a series of unforeseen events transpire in close succession. First, a seemingly routine operation of repairing two failed drones gets Jack nearly abducted by the Scavs, who had captured one of said drones. Then, one of the harvesting rigs gets blown to pieces by the rebellious Scavs, and finally a strange object falls down from the sky (literally) whose contents will make Jack question everything he had ever known about the world – as the capsule that fell down from space carried humans in it.

This is just about enough that one can say about the plot of “Oblivion” without spoiling too much. After all, most of it is in the trailer. Ok, I should probably start off by applauding the visuals “Oblivion” is sporting. The landscapes are shot very well, the Earth looks nice and ravaged… Well, maybe not the Earth, but our civilization (or what’s left of it) is presented in a breath-taking manner. Also, the score complements the photography in a powerful way. In fact, now that I think about it, the music is the strongest card in “Oblivion’s” deck. Even when you take into account the fact that Joseph Kosinski did not venture far enough from his comfort zone that he set in “Tron – Legacy” when it comes to the style of photography and the atmosphere set by the score – “Oblivion” still remains a sensory delight. It’s simply nice to look at.

Other than that, it was really painful to watch as the plot unfolded to reveal old ideas one after another, chewed up and dressed up in fancy uniforms without even a shred of respect to the classics of Sci-Fi it borrows from. Tom Cruise could not carry the weight of his character, as I think he’ll never be seen as a hero. His character lacked charisma and I didn’t get to develop a connection with him – or maybe I didn’t want to, because – as I said – Cruise fails in playing a stellar hero character. On top of that, you can smell a badly written script from a mile away, when Tom Cruise needs to keep explaining s**t to you off-screen. Even “I am legend” was done better in that regard and Will Smith didn’t have anyone to talk to besides his dog. The movie is basically a string of monologues bundled together with mildly entertaining action in beautifully rendered settings. Someone should maybe inform the director that some facts can be either omitted altogether, as they do not bring anything to the table besides noise, while other can be explained without resorting to having Tom Cruise read me a bedtime story. Even if they had Morgan Freeman (who also stars in “Oblivion”, but I shall stop now before I say too much) read the off-screen remarks, the film as a whole would still remain a lost cause. I mean, if you need to explain things to me, be smart about it. If you need, you can shove it into a dialogue and pace it better. In fact, there is a dialogue just like that in “Oblivion”, but having sat through Cruise’s prior soliloquys, it almost seems redundant at this point. And it really could have been a better film than that. As it stands now, the film is anti-climactic, predictable and flat, and even the striking visuals, music and Morgan Freeman wouldn’t save it.

In summary, “Oblivion” was a disappointment. It almost seemed forced and by the end (and it is quite long) I really couldn’t wait for the credits to roll. Now that I think about it, it sure looks to me as if Joe Kosinski was approached by the producers after his debut “Tron – Legacy” hit the screens and was asked to make it once more. But different. With Tom Cruise. And Morgan Freeman. If you look at “Oblivion” having Kosinski’s debut in mind, you’d find way too many similarities for it to be considered coincidence. I realize that it might be Kosinski’s style that has crystallized here and we just need to deal with it, but I’m sure as hell, you shouldn’t stuff everything you have onto the same stencil. It makes “Oblivion” look more derivative than it originally was. In the end, the movie’s title ended up its doom. It is better for all of us if we simply forget “Oblivion” ever existed. On second thought, maybe we should keep it in our memory as a reminder that  Sci-Fi needs to be about more than just looks.