Gravity is quite possibly the best looking film you'll see all year. It's possibly the best looking film you've seen in the last five years, too. The technical marvels on full display in this film are revolutionary. Gravity takes an environment we are all fairly familiar with and shows it to use in a way that has never been done so well before. It's at times terrifying, exhilarating, and then, just, flat.
The best elements in the film take place in the first 40 minutes. Stone works on the shuttle that will not transfer data back to Houston. Kowalsky floats around her and the shuttle telling old stories from his past. It's peaceful. Houston calls in an abort mission due to Russian satellite debris and that's when everything becomes a whirlwind. The shuttle is hit, Stone becomes loose in space, and it's absolutely horrifying. All of this, the first 20 minutes, is done in one shot. There are probably cuts, but it is done in a way to mask it from the audience and it is a sight to see. Director Alfonso Cuarón has the best cinematography on full display in this sequence, and with such a powerful hook, the film tries hard in re-creating that the rest of its runtime.
Like Stone's oxygen levels, the film begins to fall exceedingly fast as the narrative goes on. Gravity tries to express many themes, the key one being about isolation. As much as we are alone with her, the audience never gets to "know" Stone that well. After becoming the sole survivor of the shuttle, the film does not let up in throwing any possible hurdle at her to make her survive. Because of this, there is rarely time to reflect on what makes her a compelling character, and there is only so much you can take watching someone float around space if there isn't an emotional pull.
Even the scenes that play to tug on sentiment do not work because we barely have any idea who we are watching. Why should we care if she survives? There were many times that tried to break down the wall of her character ("Learn to let go," Kowalsky yells to her; a striking image of her in the fetal position of an escape pod is shown, etc.) but in the end, Gravity chose action over development, which hurt it quite a bit.
There is no denying that Cuarón's film is a stunning example of today's effects creating a masterful portrait. Every shot is flawless from beginning to end. Gravity creates a beautiful landscape that, much like space itself, ends up feeling empty.