DIRECTED BY Joseph Kosinski
STARS Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman
EMPIRE STATE OF MIND: A wary Jack (Tom Cruise) patrols the remains of a New York landmark in Oblivion. (Photo: Universal)
The latest in a steady stream of apocalyptic, end-of-the-world sagas, Oblivion itself is a vast wasteland, with only fleeting visions of imagination and coherency as far as the eye can see. Presumably, writer-director Joseph Kosinski, adapting the graphic novel he co-wrote with Arvid Nelson, didn't set out to mix'n'match elements from seemingly every science fiction film ever made with the possible exceptions of Monster a Go-Go and Son of Flubber. And presumably, Kosinski and the other scripters didn't mean for the final draft to be so clunky and convoluted that it suggests plotholes where none might exist. Yet even if all involved are presumed innocent, they're still guilty of producing one of the spring's biggest letdowns.
Initially, viewers appear to be in good hands. Set in 2077, the scenario involves an invading alien force that the citizens of Earth were able to repel, but at the expense of the livability of the planet. The survivors are now living on the Saturn moon of Titan, and Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have been tasked with gathering the earth's few remaining resources before abandoning the planet themselves. From their pad high above the surface, Victoria remains in touch with their commanding officer (Melissa Leo) on Titan; Jack, meanwhile, patrols the terrain, makes repairs to malfunctioning drones and keeps an eye out for roaming aliens known as Scavs (basically, the result of a Star Wars Tusken Raider mating with a Predator). Yet the naturally inquisitive Jack's convictions are pureed into doubt and disbelief after he rescues an astronaut (Olga Kurylenko) whose vessel crash-lands on the planet.
Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) keeps watch. (Photo: Universal)
Oblivion looks like an expensive movie right from its first frame, but in much the same way as Duncan Jones' excellent 2009 effort Moon, its minimalist mood stirs memories of those low-key sci-fi works from the early 1970s, pre-Star Wars whispers like Silent Running and Slaughterhouse-Five. Cruise's Jack Harper is an appealing human version of WALL-E with a dash of Mad Max Rockatansky simmering beneath the surface, and the movie seems poised to employ battlefield Earth in exciting ways. Instead, the story gets more ham-fisted as it unwinds, becoming needlessly cluttered and finally petering out with a series of daft sequences, each more ludicrous than the one which preceded it. The movie's not as complicated as it makes itself out to be, and for all I know, it might not contain any gaping plotholes. But it feels that way because Kosinski and company fail to answer a sizable number of questions, electing instead to let audience members fill in the blanks to such an extent that anyone who sees this film would have a justifiable reason to sue to get their names added as co-scenarists.
Cruise is dependably solid in a role that can hardly be deemed a stretch, while Riseborough makes the film's best impression as his sometimes prickly, usually sweet lover and co-worker. Kurylenko is far more affecting in Terrence Malick's To the Wonder — heck, she's even more affecting in the Bond flick Quantum of Solace — and if you've ever dreamed of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL given a makeover as a Southern lady, then Leo's your gal. Morgan Freeman also pops up from time to time, wearing sunglasses even though his character seems to spend most of his life in caves. It could be that he's a huge fan of one-hit wonder Timbuk3's 1986 ditty "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" — since we're expected to contribute our own additions to the narrative, might as well throw that tidbit in there as well.