Tron: Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski directed Oblivion into one of those eye-catching post-apocalyptic sci-fi films that can go either a promising or stale route. Unfortunately, what we have here is a stale one. I can probably say this film to be a complete mash-up of The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Planet of the Apes, but what that only does is make it sound better than it is.
The setting starts off in the year 2077 and Tom Cruise— who surprisingly was able to prove he can still do all the action like a man in his twenties—plays Jack Harper, an engineer stationed on Earth 60 years after the planet was demolished by an alien race that destroyed the moon, which led to a series of tsunamis, earthquakes, and nuclear annihilation. What was left of the human race shipped off to Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, leaving behind just our defeated and decaying civilization (football stadiums in ashes, a leaning Washington Monument for starters).
Jack heads down to Earth’s surface every day to repair cue ball-like patrol drones that scan the landscape for rebel alien “Scavengers” or “Scabs” for short, while Victoria checks in with Mission Control (Melissa Leo sporting a syrupy Foghorn Leghorn drawl—plays Sally). Even though his memory has been wiped clean, Jack still has flickers of the past like a rolling film—mostly of a beautiful mysterious woman (Quantum of Solace’s Olga Kurylenko) on the Empire State Building’s observation deck. During one of his patrols, Jack investigates a spacecraft that crash lands in the desert and finds the jettisoned crew of the ship asleep in cryo-pods. The only one to survive is… well.. guess!
Jack’s spacecraft discovery makes him question his mission and his identity further. Sounds familiar? All that’s missing is Harrison Ford in a trench coat and an origami unicorn. Even Morgan Freeman’s small role (although it looks a lot meatier in the trailer) feels like he’s doing a karaoke version of Lawrence Fishburne’s Morpheus or “god in darkness” as a friend of mine would call it.
Kosinski, who made the Tron reboot look pretty cool, manages to cough up some memorable action sequences. Cruise has one aerial dogfight sequence in a spaceship through some giddy canyons that’s so thrilling it will make you feel like you’re watching Top Gun’s Maverick back in action with a few gadget exceptions. The actor gets to model in hi-tech jumpsuits (paired with a vintage New York Yankees cap…heck yes!) and indulge his need for speed, zipping around in some unbelievably futuristic hardware. He proves why he’s been a perfect candidate of gung-ho Hollywood professionalism for the past three decades. The man’s incapable of half-assing it or phoning it in, but unlike his characters back in Minority Report and War of the Worlds, he’s a bit of a cypher here.
Thanks to Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi), Oblivion has enough special-effects artistry to keep you distracted for a while throughout the film. It’s not that Oblivion has nothing on its mind; the narrative is fairly complex, although full of recycled themes, and potentially affecting. All the eye candy can’t mask the sensation that you’ve seen this all before…and done better. But feelings are discussed instead of dramatized in a film that doesn’t know what to make of them, while coherence suffers the moon’s fate.