Daily | OBLIVION Reviews + ELYSIUM Trailer



It’s the future, and Tom Cruise is popping down to a post-apocalyptic Earth from which Matt Damon is trying to beam himself up. Or something. Comparisons between Oblivion, the latest Cruise vehicle, and Elysium, Neill Blomkamp’s followup to District 9 featuring Damon and Jodie Foster, are going to be inevitable, so we’re just going to go ahead and give in to the obvious impulse right now. Oblivion won’t open in the States until April 19, but by tomorrow, it’ll have opened just about everywhere else. We’ll be waiting much longer for Elysium—August 9—but if you’ve checked any movie sites in the last 18 hours or so, you know that the event of the moment is the release of the trailer:

A synopsis, courtesy of Gina McIntyre in the Los Angeles Times: “In the year 2154, the wealthy residents of Earth have relocated to the paradise of Elysium, a beautiful space station where there is no poverty, no war and no sickness—and where strict anti-immigration measures ensure that only those rich enough to pay for admittance are admitted to its pristine confines. It’s the job of Jodie Foster’s Secretary Rhodes to keep out the hoi polloi. After an unexpected turn of events leaves Matt Damon’s Earth-bound tough guy Max in a fight for his life, he agrees to attempt a risky scheme to save himself, but he finds himself targeted by an Elysium enforcer by the name of Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a sort of futuristic black-ops soldier who lives in Earth’s slums.”

As with District 9, it’s not too difficult to connect the allegorical dots. Slate‘s Forrest Wickman: “Damon plays a member of the 99 percent, and he sets out to occupy the utopian land of the rich.”

Meanwhile, Oblivion. “It’s 2077, 60 years since Earth was evacuated following an alien invasion,” writes Adam Woodward, setting it up in Little White Lies. “We won the war but lost the planet. As the Last Man On Earth it’s ex-Marine commander Jack Harper’s job to maintain the weaponized drones programmed to protect mankind’s last remaining assets from the ‘Scavs,’ a rogue legion of hostile mutants which look and act like stagging Tusken Raiders (though crucially we see only ever catch quick glimpses of them).”

Harper’s in constant contact with his partner and lover, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), back on Titan, Saturn’s moon, and, as Twitch‘s James Marsh explains, “when Harper investigates a crash site and pulls a woman (Olga Kurylenko) from the wreckage, she triggers long-dormant memories in his supposedly ‘security-wiped’ mind, about a life before the war. When the drones attempt to kill her, Harper begins to question not only her identity, but also his own, and everything he has come to take for granted.” In short, the story “is so obviously derivative of a succession of smarter, better-known and hugely successful films, that it is almost impossible to judge Oblivion as original. At various stages, everything from Solaris, Logan’s Run, Robocop, The Matrix and Moon is either referenced lovingly or paid generous lip service.”

The result is a story that “feels numbed, directionless and dull,” finds the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “Morgan Freeman is entirely wasted in a sketchily conceived supporting role and director and co-writer Joseph Kosinski allows Tom Cruise to play to his weaknesses. There is little of the knowing humor and fun we saw in the Mission Impossible films, just plenty of shots of Tom doing his Action Hero face, at the controls of his elaborate helicopter-plane-device, or dropping athletically down on ropes, or on the macho motorbike he occasionally rides around on… Sometimes he will do his Relaxed face, kicking back by the lakeside log cabin he has found on Earth. Periodically he will do his uxorious-romantic smile…”

On the other hand, to hear Guy Lodge tell it in Time Out, Oblivion looks great: “If one man is to be entrusted with designing our future, we could do worse than architecture graduate Joseph Kosinski. Whatever its other shortcomings, Kosinski’s 2010 directorial debut Tron: Legacy constructed a virtual-reality universe so sharply dressed and decorated it was hard to see why the characters kept trying to escape.” Oblivion is “a sleek sci-fi playground of gleaming cloud palaces, where French hipsters M83 provide the electro-classical beats and even Tom Cruise’s dirtied radiation suit looks runway-ready.”

“As a filmmaker, Kosinski thinks in terms of grand images that will be buttressed by declarative music,” writes Tim Grierson for Screen. “Characters don’t get developed in compelling ways, but Kosinski offsets that deficiency by consistently choosing evocative framing and reaching for emotional climaxes that stir the audience. His themes—the power of true love, the strength of the human spirit—may be trite, but he wrings them for maximum impact.”

Updates, 4/11: “The trouble with Oblivion is that it never gets past second gear, and most of the ideas feel cloned,” finds the Telegraph‘s Tim Robey. “It’s best, probably, not to think too hard, and to relish the more basic pleasures of floating spherical drones blowing stuff up. Kosinski is no great shakes at large-scale action sequences, but he constructs a world that’s majestic to behold, addictive to explore, and constantly seems to promise a better movie than the one we’re given. If Oblivion were a date, you’d give it high marks for first impressions, but might not stick around for pudding.”

Oblivion is an absolutely gorgeous film dramatically caught between its aspirations for poetic romanticism and the demands of heavy sci-fi action,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy.

For Variety‘s Justin Chang, it’s “a moderately clever dystopian mindbender with a gratifying human pulse.”

Oblivion‘s opened the summer movie season, declares Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. “And as it turns out, it marks a pretty good kick-off point, even if it has its share of flaws.”


Morgan Freeman in ‘Oblivion’

Updates, 4/21: Time‘s Richard Corliss wonders “how is it that science-fiction films imagine the worst for our future while steeped in love-loss for our past? Perhaps because the genre blossomed, as literature and then cinema, in the late 1940s—the time of the Cold War and the first nuclear age—when our world’s two great powers played a deadly game of mutually assured destruction, and when fearing the prospect of human extinction was not paranoia, just common sense. It’s no wonder that any time before the Bomb seemed Edenic to sci-fi writers, readers and movigoers; any time after might spell The End.” As Oblivion, though, “Six minutes or 60 years after seeing the movie, viewers are unlikely to remember it.”

For Mark Feeney, writing in the Boston Globe, “Oblivion is a lot like its star: clean, cold, efficient, increasingly overblown, and not a little inexplicable.”

“The agony of being a longtime Tom Cruise fan has always been a burden,” adds Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, “but now it’s just, well, dispiriting. You not only have to ignore the din of the tabloids and swat away the buzzing generated by his multiple headline-ready dramas, you also have to come to grips with the harsh truth that it no longer actually matters why and how Tom Terrific became less so. No one else much cares.”

“Was Cruise trying to beat out fellow Scientologist John Travolta for the honor of starring in the dumbest sci-fi epic ever?” wonders New York‘s David Edelstein.

“It’s apparent now,” writes Calum Marsh for Slant, “after two similarly pristine and vacuous productions, that Joseph Kosinski makes films as if he were building IKEA furniture: He follows a simple template, allen-keys the requisite pieces into place, and at the end of the process winds up with something both blandly functional and broadly appealing.” And, “much like TRON: Legacy, Oblivion‘s defining quality isn’t precision so much as the illusion thereof.”

Updates, 4/29: “Cruise was once willing to relinquish control of his image to filmmakers whose creative judgment he clearly trusted,” notes Calum Marsh in the Voice, “which resulted in work of surprising intelligence and sophistication—unsurprisingly, some of the best of his career. Lately, however, Cruise has taken the opposite approach: rather than actively seek roles that challenge his iconography and legacy, he’s receded into complacency and, even worse, seemingly desperate self-mythologizing.”

“The star hit fifty last year, and, while the torso of youth is disturbingly intact, the cockiness of youth is fading fast, leaving a driven grimness,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. “Yet Oblivion is worth the trip. There are two reasons for this. The first is the cinematography of Claudio Miranda, who won an Oscar for his work on Life of Pi.” And the second, he argues, is Andrea Riseborough: “Even if Oblivion, baffling and glum, goes the way of its title, one character will lodge inside the hard drive of our memory, and stay there.”

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