With Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo. Written by Joseph Kosinski and Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity. 126 minutes.
Jack (Tom Cruise) lives on a post-apocalyptic Earth. As he tells us at the start of OBLIVION, the planet was destroyed in a war with invading aliens which, by the way, we “won.” However, Earth can no longer support life. Now the remnants of humanity are in an orbiting space station while Earth’s water is sucked up to be transformed into power for our new life on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) live in a special station on Earth supervising the drones which protect those generators against the remaining alien “scavengers.”
That’s an awful lot of backstory, but director Joseph Kosinski – who co-wrote the script based on his graphic novel – soon has us following Jack as he zooms around in his really cool flying machine. The house he and Victoria live in also really cool, complete with a transparent pool. Neither the home nor the vehicle makes much sense – why is the house way up in the air and jutting out from its support at an angle? – but they look really, really cool. Really.
You may already be suspecting that something more is up, but that would be giving away the rest of the plot. While “Oblivion” is neither stupid nor dull, it is shallow, having only its few plot twists to offer along with the impressive special effects. What it doesn’t have is much in the way of character development or a need for the cast to stretch their acting muscles.
All of the characters are essentially plot devices. Jack and Victoria have had their memories wiped – “for security reasons” – which raises a number of issues. She is counting down the remaining few days they have left on their Earthbound assignment. Will they be getting their memories back? The movie eventually answers that question but it does mean these two characters have little in the way of background or motivation.
Oscar winner Melissa Leo is a face and voice on a video screen for Mission Control. Morgan Freeman shows up as Beech, the leader of the rebels. We learn little about him or why he is their leader, and his only point in the story is to rebel against… well, that would be spoiling. The most interesting character may be Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a survivor of a fallen spacecraft who has also been appearing in Jack’s dreams. Yet she, too, has little in the way of character development, simply revealing new information about herself as the story requires.
No doubt some critics will go for the cheap pot shot by saying that “Oblivion” is aptly named since that’s where it’s heading, but that would be unfair. If this was the worst of the year’s many science fiction epics, it would be a very good year for the genre. The only ones who will be really disappointed are those who wanted something engaging instead of what amounts to little more than entertaining eye candy.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.