Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion. It’s such a startlingly powerful sounding word isn’t it? But what image does it conjure up in your head? Think about it. For some, it’ll be the true definition of the word: the state of being unaware of what’s happening around you – to be oblivious, you might say. Others may take it as something akin to an abyss – an impenetrable mire, from which nothing can escape. Others still may actually conjure up images of a video game from several years ago starring some demons, portals and wizards. It’s amazing what imagery can be conjured up from a single word! But which of these descriptions actually sums up Oblivion, the latest Tom Cruise-manned vehicle? Does it carry the word well, or is it too destined to just fade into oblivion?

Oblivion... looks kinda icy!

Oblivion… looks kinda icy!

Quite a lofty introduction to a film review, don’t you think? But how well does the title describe the film? Well, Oblivion is the first of two big movies this season to talk about a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s being revisited for some reason or another (the other being Will Smith‘s After Earth). This time around, we’re told that an alien race appeared and destroyed our moon. This threw the whole world into disarray and caused a cataclysmic meltdown of society. But the aliens weren’t done there… no no, they then landed on Earth and tried to take over. They failed, but the Earth is a husk, grossly damaged by the subsequent use of nuclear bombs. Now, some years later in 2077, we follow Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) – an engineer who’s tasked with repairing security drones down on the surface of Earth. These drones are there to protect various other large vessels that are draining the Earth dry in order to generate power to be shipped off to Titan – one of Saturn’s moons… but things get a little weird for Jack, as he starts to remember some facts that were erased long ago…

Simply put, the film has a rich back story and a great lore. You can’t fault director / writer Joseph Kosinski for really thinking about his world! It goes without saying that the film looks absolutely incredible too. Kosinski‘s view of the future is bleak, but totally mesmerising. I wouldn’t quite say I was as hypnotised as I was with the visual splendour of some of Spring Breakers‘ scenes earlier in the week, but nevertheless it looked great. Even better in iMAX if you have the option for that too. So far, so good…

Oblivion (2013)

But what of the acting? Well, once again – it’s solid work. The core cast, which includes the aforementioned Tom Cruise, plus his co-guardian Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the mysterious Beech (Morgan Freeman) and the newly-salvaged Julia (Olga Kurylenko) are all perfectly comfortable in their roles. It was nice to actually see Freeman in a role that’s not as typical as usual – he’s not playing the kind, older guy that helps out the hero of the film. Thank you! If anything it reminds me more of his role in Wanted – a film I’m not particularly keen on, but that’s what came up in my mind. As for Riseborough and Kurylenko? Solid performances, but I can’t say that their roles really sold their acting skills all that much. Tom Cruise however, is once again on great form doing exactly what Tom Cruise does. If you don’t like the guy’s acting, you probably won’t enjoy Oblivion, but if you do – you’re getting what you’d get in any modern era Cruise film… Once again, so far, so good – the film doesn’t spiral into an abyss yet.

But it does come a bit closer to that hole… You see, the film makers have made a great deal of fuss over the winding plot, replete with its twists and turns. The trouble with this is that I expect the twists to be a) semi-logical, and b) unexpected. I’d say the film has two, perhaps three big twists, which I’m of course not going to spoil here. But one of them is hinted at if you have even a basic grasp of planetary facts. Now, let’s not pigeon-hole me here – The Phage is not a physicist, an astronomer or anything even remotely close. I just seem to absorb random facts that I’ve heard over the years, a bit like Bradley Cooper‘s character in Limitless. This is one of those times where I instantly recall something about the moon of Titan, which doesn’t really stack up with the rest of the above narrative. If anyone’s curious as to what that is – drop a comment below and I’ll use my Cooper-esque recollection abilities for you.

Oblivion (2013)

That’s not all I have to say about these twists either. If you recall, in Side Effects I took umbrage with the fact that the main twist of that thriller was so out of left field that it seemed like the writers had somehow cheated you out of a proper plot. Well, we’re going back into the field on the left in Oblivion too. Whilst I’d already guessed what the “big” twist was, some of the minor ones were totally bonkers and got more and more surreal as they progressed, right up until the very end of the film. In fact, the end just made me feel a bit cold to it all… You’ll see what I mean. Damn, this is a hard movie to review without spoiling anything whatsoever! But I’m determined to not do it, lest I feel your wrath. Let’s just say that some of the twists once again made me think of Wanted… but for the wrong reasons.

Having said all that, Oblivion is a solid slice of sci-fi and is set in a beautiful world. It deserves praise for that alone. It’s just that I sensed the film was a bit too drawn out at points and down-right daft at others. Sure, this is sci-fi – I should expect some ludicrous ideas and premises because it’s the future. Hell, the guy has a pulse rifle and flies around in a cool looking jet whilst living in an apartment in the sky. I can buy all that. I just wasn’t sold on some of the other plot details. Whereas some seemed too obvious, I was just oblivious to why they were included (see what I did there?).

So, which of the definitions does Oblivion live up to? It’s certainly not destined to be thrown into an abyss, that’s for sure. It’s a solid film that deserves to be seen… but it also does seem a bit too “video game” like for my tastes. No, it didn’t feature any demons or wizards, but it did seem somewhat familiar, as most games do. You almost get the feeling that Oblivion is a Frankenstein sci-fi that welds together various other film plots to suit its own means. But if you’re oblivious to some of those other films then the film will be a lot more appealing. OK, I’ll stop using words beginning “oblivio…” now… Ob(li)viously, as it’s the end.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

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Welcome To The Punch (2013)

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

It seems that James McAvoy season has definitely begun here in the UK. Every so often it appears as though one actor is in every new film you’re seeing at the cinema. Sometimes it’s great, because they’re fantastic on-screen… other times it’s just jarring as you feel you’re oversaturated by their presence. Back in 2011-12 we had a whole spell where Michael Fassbender seemed to be in absolutely every movie going. We saw a lot of Michael Fassbender. A LOT! The whole package you might say… Anyway, moving away from Fassbender‘s manhood, I’ve never understood why studios decide to schedule all of a certain actor’s movies together. It never works so well for me. Having said all that, how does James McAvoy‘s first movie of 2013 shape up? Well, welcome to Welcome To The Punch

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

The oddly titled Welcome To The Punch is a British cop-thriller. The whole thriller vibe seems to be a pretty popular choice for March, with both Broken City and Side Effects dropping in the two weeks previously. The plot here? Essentially, we have our embittered police officer Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) – a guy that has had a vendetta to catch a notorious criminal by the name of Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong); owing in no small part to the fact that when they last met some three years ago, Sternwood decided to shoot Lewinsky in the leg. This injury would plague Lewinsky for the rest of his life and really build up the need for vengeance. But Sternwood goes off the map – he’s a ghost. All of this changes when a series of murders occur in London, where one of the victims is Sternwood’s only son. This brings the big guy back out of hiding and onto Lewinsky’s radar once more.

So it sounds rather simplistic doesn’t it? Good cop wants to hunt down bad villain… but the writing and plot is a lot more clever than you may think. Welcome To The Punch goes to great efforts to humanise its protagonists. McAvoy‘s character isn’t your typical loud mouthed police officer that’s full of confidence. In fact, he’s quite reclusive and harbouring many wounds – both physical and mental. Similarly, Strong‘s Sternwood isn’t your cookie-cutter bad guy. He’s incredibly relatable and is made much more human than your typical movie nasty. It’s a really refreshing take on the genre that I enjoyed immensely.

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

The film also doesn’t skimp on action. It starts as it means to go on, and bounds along at a frenetic speed. The plot is incredibly well paced and really draws you in to the proceedings. Admittedly, there are some details that are never fully disclosed, such as why Sternwood is seen as the biggest, baddest villain in all of London and how Lewinsky was assigned to his case in the first place, but this can be ignored as it contributes little to the overarching story.

And the calibre of acting? Well, McAvoy‘s off to a good start in “McAvoy Season” here. When he first really appeared on my radar in Wanted, I wasn’t impressed with the guy. Time has changed all this, as I now see him as one of our finest actors. Welcome To The Punch does little to overturn my opinion; he’s on sterling form here and totally sells you his angst, determination and frustrations. This is complimented wonderfully by Mark Strong, a man who’s no stranger to having his “Season” at the box office (appearing in Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass and Robin Hood seemingly at the same time). Strong plays to his strengths here – he’s always an imposing “villain” figure and this is no different. Once again, another engaging performance from one of the leads. As I mentioned earlier, it’s great that these characters have been fully fleshed out and realised so that one can empathise with them at specific moments. I’m a huge fan of this, as it really sets the film apart from the other “police thriller” of the moment, Broken City. In that film, everyone is very one dimensional. Here? Well, that’s definitely not the case.

Welcome To The Punch (2013)

All of the supporting cast, especially Johnny Harris, Peter Mullan and Andrea Riseborough deserve a mention here too. One scene that’s really stuck with me from later on in the film (above), featuring Harris, Mullan, McAvoy and Strong is simply superb. It’s got tension, humour and a huge “what will happen here” hanging over it. THIS is what thrillers are for. More please!

Welcome To The Punch is that rare beast: a stylistically slick-looking British police thriller. It’s shot, directed and written in such a wonderful way that you can’t help but get wrapped up in the film. Couple this with some extremely strong leads and a genuinely thrilling plot and you’ve got one hell of a film on your hands here. It’s certainly head and shoulders above what the US is churning out as of late. It’s simply a film that you cannot afford to miss if you’re a fan of thrillers that are rich in characterisation.

So where does McAvoy season take us? Well, for The Phage, it’ll be seeing him on stage next week as Macbeth before he then warps back into movie land for his star turn in Danny Boyle‘s Trance the week after. I’m on tenderhooks to see how that particular effort turns out. Can his residency on our screens propel McAvoy into the stratosphere, just as Michael Fassbender‘s stay did? Well, I guess it all depends on whether McAvoy feels like whipping his tackle out for all and sundry to see. It certainly didn’t harm Fassbender. I guess that’s what happens when you’re “endowed” with great acting abilities though.

Phage Factor:

4 Star