It’s the year 2077 and Earth is just barely surviving. In the aftermath of wars, viruses and the destruction of the moon, the planet still stands but most of its most famous monuments are rubble. Keeping an eye on the planet’s survivors and blasting away the “scavs” who defiantly attack is Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise), who describes himself as “Earth’s janitor.” He lives in a literal high rise apartment, does day-to-day battle with the few left on the planet who oppose his mission and, layer by layer, discovers that, as the cliche goes, things aren’t what they seem to be.
I normally don’t take notes during a movie but I made an exception for Oblivion–at the mid-point, I began listing all the other films this one steals from. A nicer way of putting it would be saying Oblivion pays homage to many other movies, many of them good, but the film’s biggest flaw is still its total unoriginality. The story cribs ideas and whole scenes from Silent Running, Moon, The Matrix, I Am Legend, Mad Max, Terminator Salvation and, in an obvious nod to the film’s star, an aerial dogfight right out of Top Gun.
Some won’t be distracted by how the story is made up from spare parts and, given the fact that is actually entertaining, many likely won’t care. This is the second film directed by Joseph Kosinski, a designer-turned-filmmaker whose debut was the underrated TRON Legacy. Kosinski demonstrates remarkable craftsmanship, creating gorgeous, precise and utterly cool visuals. The imagery and orchestral/electronica music score by M83 are so powerful, they overwhelm the movie’s all-too familiar story.
At first, Cruise seems too self-aware (regarding his status as a massively popular actor and as an exceptionally good-looking man for 50) for the lead, but he grows into the part. This is more of a movie star role than one of his truly great performances, but he typically and admirably gives it everything he’s got. Even better is Andrea Riseborough, a gorgeous, immensely appealing actress, superb in her breakout role as Harper’s partner.
Olga Kurylenko, in the pivotal turn as a mysterious survivor, has less to do but does it well enough (she’s far better opposite Ben Affleck in the current To The Wonder). Morgan Freeman’s role as Harper’s antagonist is tiny, though he gives it his usual panache and it’s amusing to see him play what’s an especially odd role for him.
The credits only listed seven main actors and characters. Despite this, the film still manages to misuse Zoe Bell, the stuntwoman extraordinaire from Death Proof, in a dialog-free role where she stands around and watches the other actors talk. It’s kind of like hiring Jackie Chan to play a mute accountant.
As with many sci-fi films, there’s more fiction than science at hand. The stunning imagery of a post-apocalyptic New York make this a credible entry in the genre but it’s also more an above average action movie than a worthy successor to The Road Warrior. The scene-stealing, flying robotic drones and their itchy trigger fingers leave a bigger impression than the screenplay.
Yet, this more than jump-starts the summer movie season a month early. Cruise and Kosinski may not have reinvented the wheel (more like borrowed the schematics) but their film is still riveting from start to finish.
★ ★ ★
Rated PG-13 / 126 Min.