Tantalizing set-up, but it just barely holds together. Oblivion showcases a beautiful wasteland of the post-apocalpytic future. The year is 2077, and Tom Cruise plays one of the few humans patrolling an abandoned Earth that is still riddled with aliens called “Scavengers,” who once came close to conquering them. Here’s a sci-fi film that will be remembered for its sleekness thanks to writer-director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”), and electric theme by M83 (similar to Daft Punk music). Cruise’s Jack Harper has an assigned wife (Andrea Riseborough), the uncurious Victoria. The real woman of his past is Julia (Olga Kurylenko). The assigned wife vs. pursuable ideal woman is a time-honored tradition in good science fiction.
Flashbacks tell us that Jack had a blissful life before aliens blew up the moon, which caused a wave of catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis, and radiation poisoning. Jack is haunted by something, and we’re analog to his now peculiar investigations – something of this Earth is not right, and something has been fabricated, he sorta feels.
Jack is inhibited by threats. Plants carry toxins, asking questions is taboo, too much off the probe grid is maligned by lethal radiation. The hero must think outside the box. Jack does his duty by flying his bubbleship during the day so he can be a repairman to drones that terminate Scavengers. But sometimes he lands without permission from wife/team member Victoria or Sally from orbital mission control. Because he is curious.
All of this is derivative 1970’s sci-fi like the tree-hugging “Silent Running” and weird prophecy-laden “Zardoz.” Then there’s more modern sci-fi. You know the Wachowski Brothers titles, the Ridley Scott hardware titles. They all ring a bell. This one gets us thinking away from its predecessors because of its own polished perfection, its own pulsating rhythm. “Oblivion” feels like its own distinct animal, even if we are intuit that it’s a clone.
What an original look nonetheless. “Oblivion” has adult orientation written all over it. We’re teased by the prospect that this could be brainy sci-fi. But, ultimately, it goes for mainstream sell-out. The underground revolutionaries are discovered (enter Morgan Freeman, not the prototypical genius we were hoping for). The men of the underground movement appear smart, but ultimately, how smart are they? I noticed that by the end they didn’t duck for cover when an attacking rotary machine gun was heading right at them. How many of us in the audience could have done without all the blow-up special effects?
I’m not as angry with it as I should have been.
It wouldn’t be true if I didn’t confess that I rather enjoyed “Oblivion” as a lite-form of post-apocalyptic sci-fi. I enjoyed counting the references, and I even got a little more than I hoped for – in some of the aesthetic aspects. But how does that Space Pyramid at the end actually… operate? Would anybody, given thought, actually find it structurally plausible? I never felt like I saw enough of the aliens, either. I did, however, see enough of that Cruise / Kurylenko chemistry come to life. That kind of cheesiness reaffirms my faith in that I never tire in seeing the perfect man and woman getting together in a torn dystopian future.
125 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / MIND-BENDER / WEEKEND THRILLS