Director: Joseph Kosinski
Studio: Chernin Entertainment / Radical Studios
Stars: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman
The annual summer blockbuster demolition derby movie season means it's time to dish up some of that good ol' sci-fi dystopia. Oblivion, a paranoid's paradise, is set on the barren, desolate late 21st century wasteland Planet Earth, decimated by both an alien attack and by the humans' attempt to bombard the invaders with planet-destroying nukes.
Despite the spectacularly photogenic CGI debris all around them, our hero and heroine, Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough, two survivors charged with wiping out the last remnants of resistance, live in a posh, unreal-seeming floating pad as sleek and chilly as something out of an Apple commercial. They're gearing up for their exodus to one of Saturn's moons, leaving the radiation-decimated planet to the beastly aliens called Scavengers, but that doesn't mean that Riseborough can't traipse around in designer chic and spiky shoes. It's all very Jetsons. As for why Cruise is all blank-eyed and sad, we're told that the drone repairman he plays has had a memory wipe. This may account for his ability to spout, straight-faced, such dialogue as, "I can't shake the feeling that despite all that has happened, Earth is…still my home." A memory wipe may also account for the fact that neither the actors nor the characters seem to recognize they're piloting a vehicle recycled from odds and ends of Kubrick, Wall-E, Matrix and Moon. Directed by Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) from an unpublished graphic novel, Oblivion is great to look at but much tougher to care about.
The characters are ciphers, the actors given little more to do than act as information-givers and plot-pushers. Curvy Olga Kurylenko turns up to be saved by Cruise as the lone survivor of a crash; our hopes rise, but it becomes obvious that she's only around to help the hero See Things Clearly and change his life. Morgan Freeman shows up late, spouts some eye-rolling dialogue but at least does it while wearing shades, presumably for the sake of plausible deniability.
Oblivion seems at war with itself, often reaching for something actually poetic, smart, even meditative, then awkwardly lumbering back into big action-adventure mode, perhaps to justify its big budget. It's a movie that carries the whiff of having been crushed and dumbed down after dodgy audience reaction screenings. How else to explain that it begins with an endless, overly explanatory voiceover that makes you want to shout, "For the love of Mike, just get on with it!"? At least it's not a sequel, nor does it obviously lend itself to one. Sometimes bad ideas ought to be allowed to die of loneliness.