Stylishly directed by Tron: Legacy?s Joseph Kosinski, Oblivion is one of those easy-on-the-eyes post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies that lives or dies by its pretzel-logic plot. Sadly, what we have here is a stale pretzel. I would describe the movie as a mash-up of The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Planet of the Apes, but that makes it sound better than it is.
The year is 2077 and Tom Cruise—proving that at age 50 he can still run, jump, and brawl like a man in his twenties—plays Jack Harper, a can-do engineer stationed on Earth 60 years after the planet was totaled by an alien race that destroyed the moon, which led to an Armageddon of tsunamis, earthquakes, and nuclear annihilation. What was left of the human race shipped off to Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, leaving behind the detritus of our defeated civilization (football stadiums in ashes, a leaning Washington Monument — you know, typical Roland Emmerich stuff). The only folks left behind on the uninhabitable planet are Jack and his submissive, sex-kitten supervisor Victoria (W.E.?s Andrea Riseborough), who live in a sleek glass Jetsons pad in the clouds and whose memories were wiped before they were assigned to their not-so-glamorous new gig.
Jack heads down to Earth?s barren surface every day to repair cue ball-like patrol drones that scan the landscape for rebel alien ?Scavengers?, while Victoria checks in with Mission Control (Melissa Leo sporting a syrupy Foghorn Leghorn drawl that telegraphs that she?s up to no good). Even though his memory has been erased, Jack still has flickers of the past?mostly of a beautiful mystery woman (Quantum of Solace?s Olga Kurylenko) on the Empire State Building?s observation deck (where else?). Then one day, Jack investigates a spacecraft that crash lands in the desert and finds the jettisoned crew of the ship asleep in cryo-pods. The only one to survive is?the woman from his dreams.
Jack?s discovery makes him question his mission and his identity. Familiar, right? All that?s missing is Harrison Ford in a trench coat and an origami unicorn. Even Morgan Freeman?s small role (it looks a lot meatier in the trailer) feels like he?s doing a karaoke version of Lawrence Fishburne?s Morpheus.
Kosinski, who made the unnecessary 2010 Tron reboot look so cool, manages to cough up some memorable action sequences. Cruise has one aerial dogfight sequence in a spaceship through vertiginous canyons that?s so thrilling it will make you feel like you?re watching Top Gun?s Maverick back in action. The actor gets to model hi-tech jumpsuits (paired with an old-school New York Yankees cap?figures) and indulge his need for speed, zipping around in some gee-whiz futuristic hardware. And, as always, he proves why he?s been a perfect engine of gung-ho Hollywood professionalism for the past three decades. The man?s incapable of half-assing it or phoning it in. But unlike his characters in Minority Report and War of the Worlds, he?s a bit of a cypher here.
Thanks to Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi), Oblivion has enough special-effects artistry to keep you distracted for a while. But all the eye candy in the world can?t mask the sensation that you?ve seen this all before?and done better. Too bad the movie?s script wasn?t given the same attention as its sleek, brave-new-world look. C+