Nobody emotes sincerity like Tom Cruise. In picture after picture, the actor conveys a genuine earnestness that has always made him an engaging presence for me. Few have a filmography that is as solid, or even as monetarily successful. Regardless of his popularity in the public eye, I have remained a steadfast supporter of his acting career. Unfortunately, Oblivion is another recent misstep (Rock of Ages) that has some inspired moments but largely fails to live up to Cruise’s emotive talents
In a future society, Jack Harper is one of the last humans left attempting to mine precious resources that remain on earth. We learn the human race has already been decimated by an apocalyptic war with a group of extraterrestrials called the Scavs. Yet Jack and his communications officer/girlfriend, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), have no knowledge of this. Their minds erased as part of a mandatory procedure. The unexpected crash landing of a spaceship introduces him to a mysterious woman named Julia (Bond girl Olga Kurylenko), who holds a key to his past. This sets a series of events in motion that will trigger another climatic battle where he may rise up against nefarious forces, so that he might blah blah blah and possibly save mankind.
Utterly dull, lifeless story is made mildly palatable by exceptional production design and a glossy facade. There’s a lot to admire. The picture applies a sophisticated and elegant sci-fi style that is a throwback to the cinematic landscape of the 70s. The visuals are classy. There are these nifty little flying machines called drones that look like big metal orbs. These weaponized machines, which protect Jack from alien attacks, utilize inventive special effects and sound. Every time they were on screen I was fascinated by their tangible attributes. Director Joseph Kosinski adapts his own unpublished graphic novel. He was responsible for the visually stunning TRON: Legacy which I enjoyed. Although I’m starting to sense a pattern as that film suffered from a weak script as well. He wisely employs production designer Darren Gilford again and Academy Award winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda who lensed Life of Pi. Also like TRON: Legacy, Oblivion is highlighted by an orchestral score by a French electronic band. This time it’s M83. Their score’s rich sonic texture is often the only thing that maintains attention when nothing of interest is happening. All of the shenanigans dress up the proceedings in a way that superficially masks a dreary screenplay.
I really wanted to enjoy this. Works that champion style over substance don’t necessarily preclude my enjoyment. Director Tarsem Singh has built an exquisite oeuvre on the practice. The script’s heart is in the right place as it favors speculative concepts over gadgets and shootouts. Its attempt to be more meditative is admirable. Despite the gorgeous veneer of quality, the soporific story holds absolutely no innovation, passion or enthusiasm. The ideas are thoroughly mundane. Its setup held some promise at first, but it ultimately languishes into something so stridently average. Add to that numerous long, static shots where nothing happens and you have an excellent cure for insomnia. Its narrative similarities to other flicks kept reminding me of better movies I could be watching. I was tempted to list the many examples from which this mediocrity appropriates but that would merely insult a list of superior science fiction movies. Borrowing from other futuristic films wouldn’t have been enough to discredit Oblivion, but the utter lack of excitement is.