★★ / ★★★★
Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are stationed on war-ravaged Earth to repair drones and they have two more weeks until they can return to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons where the rest of the humans reside. But when Jack investigates a crash site, he opens a hibernation pod containing the body of a woman (Olga Kurylenko) that has somehow made it into his dreams and memories. It has been five years since the mandatory memory wipe.
For a movie set in the future with a lot of history involving a war between humans and an alien race called Scavs (short for “scavengers”), “Oblivion,” based on the screenplay by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt, is surprisingly thin in story—not at all one that we can get into and get our hands dirty. Instead, it is taped up with amazing visuals and wacko twists. Neither is good enough to pull off an enveloping experience.
The look of the picture is worth admiring. Seeing American landmarks demolished, surrounded by water, or almost completely covered in sand urged me to look closer at the screen. Because the images are seemingly without fault, it is easy to buy into the reality that there really was a nuclear war many years ago, along with catastrophic events incited by the destruction of the moon, and the repercussions of the attempted invasion linger.
Cruise’s performance stands out each time the camera is on him while he is surrounded by a vast nothingness. During those scenes, even though his character is not interacting with someone face-to-face, Cruise puts a story in his eyes. I believed the yearning and confusion in Jack’s fragmented memories. When the action scenes arrive, we care about what happens to him even though we do not completely forget that we are watching Cruise the movie star. Later, we are asked to evaluate who Jack really is.
This is where the problem lies. While the surprises remain connected to the story, there is a lack of a believable weight behind the revelations. Without revealing too much, I was not convinced that the writers thought about them completely especially how such information would impact the psychology of the characters. Not enough time is given to them—and us—to absorb what is really going on and what they might imply. Yes, the twists took me by surprise but I was not emotionally invested. On the contrary, I found them laughable at times. To me, the final scene is a complete misfire, straddling the line between convenience and manipulation.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, there is no denying that “Oblivion” is easy on the eyes, but it is not written with enough intelligent and subversive layers, qualities that separate merely passable and truly memorable science fiction films, so that we are entertained on a sensory level and are inspired to really think about the emotional and psychological challenges the protagonist must go through after his discoveries. It is unremarkable.