Set in the year 2013, writer/director Joseph Kosinski‘s Oblivion is a post-apocalyptic tale of one man’s search for truth and heroism after a series of discoveries turn his world is turned upside down. Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough are cast as Jack and Victoria, the last two humans on the planet Earth. The team are tasked with overseeing the draining of the planet’s remaining natural resources (the planet’s water supply) before pulling out and joining the rest of humanity in their new home on Saturn’s moon Titan.
While haunted by impossible memories from his past (we’re told all agents undergo a mandatory memory wipe before being stationed) involving a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko) and Earth before the attack by an alien race known as Scavs, Jack performs his duty of keeping the military drones in good working order. Together with Victoria, his job is to protect the last bit of humanity’s resources the aliens didn’t destroy from the remaining tribes of Scavs still living on Earth who occasionally venture out to attack the giant water-vacuuming machines.
Over the course of the film Jack’s understanding of the state of the world is questioned by the discovery of a tribe of humans led by a mysterious man named Morbius, I mean Beech (Morgan Freeman), who offers Neo the blue pill and the harsh truth about what is really going happening on the planet. His understanding of events is further complicated by the arrival of the woman from his dreams who crash lands on the planet with answers to questions he doesn’t even know how to begin to ask.
Hardly original, Oblivion steals mightily in terms of design and plot elements from the likes of Total Recall, 2001: A Space Odyssey, WALL-E, The Matrix, Moon, and others. Despite juggling these various ideas surprisingly well, and providing a set-up which asks some interesting questions, in the end Oblivion has no real interest in delivering anything more than a basic hero’s journey that undercuts the sacrifices made by Jack and others to offer a predictable, and empty, final act. Much like I Am Legend, once we discover our main character isn’t alone in the world things get much more predictable and far less interesting as boilerplate action is substituted for any chance of real drama or even the most basic sci-fi level philosophy.
Oblivion is burdened with a number of plot holes which I won’t go into here for the sake of time and to prevent myself from giving away any of the movie’s twists or secrets (of which there are plenty). Needless to say not all of these work, as Kosinski often chooses the easiest (and nearly always most predictable) choice to keep the action moving forward, even if the logic surrounding characters’choices flies in the face of basic logic or even explicit information we’ve been given earlier in the story. The overbearing score is also an issue as the film tries to use it to force audiences accept a level of importance they simply don’t deserve.
Things aren’t all bad as Kosinski and Claudio Miranda deliver a terrific looking film, even if the design of the technology is a little to Apple-inspired (or lifted directly from 2001) for my tastes and the film gives Peter Jackson a run for his money in terms of meandering shots of forests, nature and snow-capped mountain tops. The movie looks particularly good in IMAX, which, if you plan to see it in the theater (something I can’t quite recommend), is certainly how the movie should be viewed.
Oblivion lacks anything resembling a cohesive theme or point which you wouldn’t necessarily need in a dumb action flick but you would certainly expect to be present in a wider-reaching sci-fi film Oblivion promises (at least early on). It also has more than a few plot landmines that you’ll have to largely ignore and a meandering structure ballooning the film’s running time to more than two hours (40 minutes of which could easily have been cut).
Despite all these problems Oblivion isn’t awful. It’s certainly disappointing, especially it’s predictable final act, but the movie has great production design, a good cast, a likable star, and just enough moments to keep you from loosing interest. If you are curious enough take the time and unwilling to put the money down to see the movie in IMAX, I’d suggest waiting for Oblivion to hit home video (or even cable) and save yourself a little time and money for the numerous other big-budget blockbusters on the way as we move ever closer into the Summer movie season.