Friday, April 26, 2013

Kevin Is Right! About Movies: Oblivion

Last night I had the pleasure of watching Joseph Kosinski's film Oblivion.  Not a bad flick.  First off, the real story here is in the credits, and that needs to be taken into account, first and foremost.  Who wrote the Graphic Novel?  Kosinski.  Who wrote the screenplay (Along with Carl Gajdusek and Star Wars VII writer Michael Arnt)?  Kosinski.  Who directed this high effects budget film?  Kosinski.  Transcending that many different skill sets to put forth your vision is a feat that should be lauded in and of itself.  How do you do that?

A wholly plausible depiction of what would happen to the Meadowlands if the Jets ever won a Superbowl

The film itself was a very good, if imperfect, work.

The briefest of plot lead ins is as follows:  Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough are left on Earth after a war with an invading alien species known as the Scavs.  As Cruise puts it in the trailer, "We are the mop up crew."  Cruise and Riseborough are left to supervise the last remaining steps human beings have to take before evacuating the planet, and sailing off to Titan.  Most of humanity is on a space station orbiting the Earth, supervising, and waiting to leave.   Two weeks before they are scheduled to leave, Cruise is having problems with memory and not wanting to leave...

The first half of the movie was truly riveting.  The audience is immediately pulled in with an intriguing mystery in a dystopian, post apocalyptic future.  To me, it is the best type of mystery.  It is not a "Whodunnit?" It's a "Whatisit?"  Or maybe a "Whyisit?."  In any case, I found the dramatic tension to be positively tactile in its presence.  It was like a taught bowstring cutting through every scene.  You felt that at any moment you, or one of the characters, would reach out and pull, and hear a satisfying thrum as a consequent.  It felt masterful, and had me on the edge of my seat, my mind working as fast as the years of booze fueled brain damage would let it.

Additionally, Mr. Kosinski's world building and aesthetic were top notch.  You opened your eyes after the opening credits and you were brought into a world that was simultaneously believable and foreign.  You could sense, both in a literal way, by seeing, with your fucking eyes, but also in a more nebulous experiential sense, the dust of war and history covering the world you know, and replacing it with the future.  An imperfect future, to be sure; but that, in a way, made it more believable.  The design was not only convincing, but relatively unique.  It certainly borrowed from the sleek, clean, hospital white aesthetics from such films as I, Robot or Abram's Star Trek, but what it did to surpass those was contrast with the barren, destroyed earth on the planet below.  It gave an environment that risked being sterile a lot of punch.

The acting, as well, was filled with wonderful performances.  Tom Cruise's acting chops are well established.  And what ever you think of his Sci-Fi religion, or his personal life, I think, at this point, his power as an actor cannot be denied.  He is the world's only western 5'7" action hero.  That says a lot.  He was thrown into one dopey scene, unfortunately featured in the trailer, where he narrates the ending of the 2017 Super Bowl.  Perhaps it is because I am a football fan, but that scene sounded like someone who doesn't "get" sports trying to narrate sports.  You almost cringed when he reached the climax of the monologue and said "Touchdown!"  Still, this is a nitpick for the sake of critical analysis.  Few could replicate the quality of the overall performance from Cruise as he wrestles with his mystery.

The true stand out performance of the movie, for me, was the Andrea Riseborough's brilliant and subtle performance as Cruise's partner, Victoria.   She simultaneously held, with grace and alacrity, a presence of intense sensuality and an affect that can only be referred to as "Off," which made her character not only compelling, but a ratchet for the bowstring.  Her torque was off the charts.   My usage of the word "off," with all of its inartful imprecision, illustrates the subtlety of the performance.  Her mannerisms were such that you could not really use more descriptive words, as they would be incorrect, and yet you could sense something that made you want to dig deeper.

Riseborough, thinking about how much she hates you

The second half of the movie felt a little more cumbersome under it's own weight, as it abandoned mystery for plot twists, reveals, and big action.  I felt the plot twists were a mixed bag of satisfying reveals and M. Night Shyamalan style "Gotcha's".  They built in intensity as the movie progressed, but, ultimately we ended up with an ending that left you feeling similar to the ending of the Dark Knight Returns.  Most of the other plot twists held because the main characters experienced the revelation at the same time as the audience.  The final "twist" was merely a parlor trick, without any narrative raison d'etre.  It felt cheap.

Finally, the action in the movie was both a strength and a curse.  An action packed dogfight sequence had tremendous punch.  My reaction was visceral and my immersion was complete.  I was like an 8 year old playing Nintendo, I shifted in my seat with each bank and roll, steeling myself against phantom G-Forces, and aiding Cruise in his maneuvers.  Sure, we had the most unoriginal of all dogfighting tropes, the "Turn The Millennium Falcon Sideways to Fit Through the Tight Spot" maneuver, but this can be forgiven in an otherwise very well directed and cut sequence.

Sadly, the action also brought about my one and only true problem with the film: The plot armor was thick.  Thick and deep.  Reminiscent of the shame and cheeto dust no doubt found next to you at the computer.  We have to stay out of spoilerville, here, but sweet baby jeebus, implausible, jarring, immersion smashing things happened when the heroes were being shot at, and they most certainly had more hit points than your average NPC.  As the movie climaxed, it got to the point of ridiculous.  Clearly established behaviors were abandoned, such that the heroes might live to fight another day.  All the brilliant tension of the first half of the movie's mystery plot was not mirrored in the action portion of the second half.

The quibbles are minor, however.  This was a tight, enjoyable movie, front to back.  It asked you to think, it asked you to enjoy, and it entertained.  I'd absolutely recommend it as a much better than average summer Sci Fi flick.  For my 100% consistent, unimpeachable Kevin Is Right! rating I give this 4 out of 5 Slots of Plot Armor equipped.


  1. How was Morgan Freeman? Was he the typical badass, all-knowing character?

    Oh, and a little birdie told me that Cruise only likes to climax his monologues with...well...*not* the ladies...not that there's anything wrong with that.

  2. Freeman was good. His character is a spoiler in and of itself, so I didn't want to go into it, and further, his performance acting wise, didn't really get me excited one way or another. I guess you could say he played the typical all knowing bad-ass.

    And, um, really nice joke. Good execution on that one.