The new Tom Cruise starrer Oblivion borrows from so many films, you could start a game of “spot-the-reference” the moment you settle into your seat. There’s a little Total Recall, Minority Report, Moon and Wall-E in there, while the mid-air action scenes have a distinct Top Gun feel to them.
It’s a stylish-looking sci-fi set in a not-so-distant future where the Earth has been more or less destroyed after a war with an alien race. Much of the planet has been turned into a radioactive wasteland, and the surviving population has been transported to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, where they must start afresh. Cruise plays Jack Harper, a blue-collar repairman responsible for maintaining the fleet of drones that patrol the lifeless planet. Jack and his wife Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who live in a space-ship like house that floats high above the clouds, are the Earth’s last remaining residents. Their mission – mining the planet for its remaining resources – will be completed in two weeks’ time, after which the couple will head to Titan to join other humans. But then Jack rescues a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) from the remains of a shot-down spacecraft, and it leads him to a colony of supposedly alien ‘scavengers’ that reveal a disturbing truth.
The film’s visual palette is minimalist yet spectacular, particularly the open vistas of a nuclear-ravaged Earth, with the tops of famous landmarks poking out through the dust. Cruise jets around the place in a futuristic helicopter, being chased by drones, narrowly missing the sides of mountains…these bits are thrilling, and Cruise performs them with a nice balance of nervous energy and cool confidence. But much like his last film, Tron: Legacy, writer-director Joseph Kosinski has created an eye-popping but unengaging experience.
Over the longest two hours and five minutes of your life, Oblivion packs in a mawkish story about a brave human determined to control his own destiny. There are too many twists that add little value here, and the climax appears intentionally obtuse. Despite setting up its premise with genuine intrigue, the film quickly leaves you puzzled, then exhausted by its lethargic pace. Tom Cruise, oozing movie-star charisma, does his best to salvage this dreary enterprise, but is let down by the stilted script.
Jack’s inner journey, which should have been the film’s focal point, never feels even remotely authentic. And don’t even get me started on Morgan Freeman, who shows up in an all-black superhero-like rubber suit, complete with cape and dust-shielding glasses!
I’m going with two out of five for Oblivion. What stays with you in the end is the gorgeous imagery. My favorite visual was a far-off shot of Cruise and his wife swimming romantically in their pool, seen through the glass walls of their floating home.