They come round occasionally, once every blue moon, once every Sheffield flood, a weekend in which a new Nicolas Cage movie isn’t released. I’m talking about a Tom Cruise film that I actually like. And I like Oblivion.
The last film starring The Cruiser that I genuinely enjoyed was Collateral. Mainly because he was playing a bad guy. That type of role is a better fit for his intense, narcissistic persona. All that crazy, jumping on sofas oddness, that feeling that somewhere, deep down, there’s an unhinged lunatic that secretly hates everyone that isn’t Tom Cruise, works really well when he’s playing a bad guy.
So Oblivion is a pleasant surprise. Even more so, considering Joseph Kosinskidirected it. He’s the guy who crapped the totally average TRON: Legacy across cinema screens.
War with aliens
Oblivion shares some of that film’s clean aesthetic. Cruise plays Jack Harper (honestly, anyone else getting bored with Hollywood’s fondness for calling lead characters Jack?), one half of a maintenance crew that resides in an impossibly tall, gleaming white tower in the clouds. There’s hardly a thing out-of-place, lots of clean architectural lines, neutral colours, crisp linen, that sort of thing.
You never see him or Andrea Riseborough rubbing his spaceship down with a sponge and a bucket of soapy water, but before take off at the start of a new day, it always looks spotless. In the future, maybe spaceships are self cleansing.
That cleanness, stark and white, up there in the clouds, serves as a nice contrast to the world below: decimated by a war with aliens, but one which humanity has actually won. Trouble is, we had to use nukes to do it. Pesky nukes. Always turning Earth into a wasteland. On the plus side, they also turn sci-fi stories into money-making blockbusters, and keep popcorn manufacturers in business.
With the earth destroyed, Cruise and Riseborough diligently see to it that the rest of the world’s resources are siphoned off, to provide energy to the rest of humanity who are on one of Saturn’s moons, Titan. Naturally, as this is a science fiction movie, nothing is that straightforward.
Three act structure
What I liked most about Oblivion is that the story has a noticeable three act structure. I find it amazing really, that that’s a selling point, but with a lot of event movies mindlessly chasing a MacGuffin for two hours, it seems oddly refreshing.
Is it a Hollywood conspiracy? Have they been feeding us poorly structured stories in mega budget movies for the last 10 years, so that when they throw something our way that has a beginning, a middle and an end (and not something that is all beginning, or all middle, or all end), we think we’re seeing something new and original?
Maybe that’s the plan, because Oblivion is hardly original. It’s easy to see where it’s borrowed some of its ideas from. And plot inconsistencies do niggle, leading to questions that would bring the film to a grinding halt, if you thought about them too much.
But mostly, Cruise sells it well, from the routine work of his maintenance job through to the inevitable action heroics. Sadly, Morgan Freeman is wasted in a role that his him onscreen for not much more than fifteen minutes of the movie. However, during that time, he does manage to look mega cool with nothing more than the simple act of lighting a cigar.
The real standout is Andrea Riseborough. She might not have the lead role that Olga Kurylenko bagged, but hers is a more interesting character arc. She wrings a lot out of it, considering she barely moves from the one location.
So, some cool action, The Cruiser at his least annoying, a good sense of pace, beautiful scenes of destruction (including the moon which has been cracked in two), and flying droids that make weird and funny noises, it’s a Tom Cruise film that I actually like! Amazing!
Just how intense is Tom Cruise in Oblivion?
But I guess the big question is, “Just how intense is Tom Cruise in Oblivion?” His level of intensity is something I’ve decided to start measuring with this, and every subsequent Tom Cruise movie that I see.
As we all know, whether he’s playing a samurai, a sports agent, a Vietnam veteran or a hotshot lawyer/racing driver/jet fighter pilot, Tom Cruise at some point during the movie will become… INTENSE. Sometimes when you least expect it. Sometimes it’s only for the briefest moment, to show the bad guy who’s boss. Sometimes, you can see him building up to it. The smile fades. Watch out! Tom is gonna get… INTENSE!
For Oblivion, see below for just how INTENSE Tom is.
65%. That’s pretty INTENSE. Maybe not so much as we’re used to. I think Cruise, early in the film at least, seems quite human, displaying a wry humour that is at odds with his normal capacity to be… INTENSE. I calculated Tom’s INTENSENESS rating using guesswork, two cups of coffee, and a graphics program. I hope you find the information useful.