The future of planet Earth is bleak if Oblivion is any indication, and that’s not a reference to the desolate post-apocalyptic vision it depicts.
This visually ambitious but dramatically inert science-fiction adventure is an unfortunate exercise in style over substance, where dazzling set pieces and special effects are compromised by a screenplay that feels right off the genre assembly line.
Tom Cruise stars in the story set in 2077, after a nuclear war with an alien race has destroyed the Earth’s moon and left the planet itself almost uninhabitable, with most of the remaining human population having fled to remote space stations.
Cruise plays Jack, a drone technician haunted by nightmares whose work is vital to re-establishing human life on the planet. His mission with his partner (Andrea Riseborough) is almost finished when Jack happens upon the ruins of a crashed spacecraft and finds a survivor (Olga Kurylenko) who holds the key to multiple secrets about his existence.
Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) helped to adapt the script from his own unpublished graphic novel of the same name. Working with Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi), he creates an imaginative futuristic world and seamlessly blends computer-generated effects into a realistic dystopian vision.
Much of the first half of the film features Cruise essentially acting alone, with the help of a cool motorcycle and even cooler winged spaceship that he navigates over dilapidated American landmarks and through the tightest of spaces. After a pair of plot twists foreshadowed to various degrees, that video-game mentality segues into a more human story of survival and reconciliation.
The main problem with the self-indulgent screenplay, however, is that its ideas never come together to develop any kind of rooting interest. The quieter, more emotionally complex moments seem to clash with the high-concept action scenes aimed squarely at action fans, lest viewers forget that this is a big-budget vehicle for Cruise, after all.
In the third act, motives and loyalties get twisted around so frequently that it becomes difficult to keep track of what anyone is fighting for in the first place.
Oblivion borrows a few concepts from some predecessors in the sci-fi realm, yet manages to carve out a unique premise and setting, with plenty of technical pizzazz. Yet the difficulty comes in having the courage to follow through on its narrative convictions.
Rated PG-13, 125 minutes.