Oblivion feels heavily inspired by video games of late – easy on the eyes, slightly derivative of other, superior sci-fi works, and not really doing anything particularly memorable in terms of plot. It’s also not a film to skimp on backstory; we learn that Earth is now a nuclear wasteland, destroyed in a war that followed the destruction of the moon and the subsequent disruption of Earth’s natural processes. That was 2017; it’s now 2077. The entire human race has been relocated to Saturn’s moon of Titan. All that’s left are Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who are kept busy on their five-year mission patrolling the barren surface and repairing soulless drones, who regularly scan the surface for the rogues behind the moon destruction and blast them to bits.
With two weeks left in the mission before they rejoin the rest of humanity, Victoria is eager to begin life anew with Jack on Titan, checking in with their superior Sally regularly and happily claiming them to be an, “effective team.” But Jack is restless; he feels drawn to Earth and its natural beauty. For reasons even he can’t explain, he considers it his true home. He’s also suffering from recurring dreams of another woman (Olga Kurylenko) from before the mission, before the company mandated a memory wipe for both him and Victoria. And when Jack discovers others like Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman), who encourage him to venture beyond the radiation zones he’s been ordered to stay away from by the company for fear of poisoning, he begins to unlock the mysteries behind his past and Earth’s devastation.
Oblivion is appealing to look at, its clean, gray-and-white color scheme epitomizing the machine Jack works for and hitting home themes of nature vs. technology. It’s clear director Joseph Kosinski was influenced by Star Wars, and though he isn’t exactly an auteur, he’s got a good handle on directing with heavy CGI. It’s mainstream sci-fi that will go down easy, all to a cool, almost 80s-esque Daft Punk score. At the same time, Oblivion’s plot is a bit ordinary, falling somewhere in between inspired and uninspired. From the beginning, we’re faced with a multitude of questions that stand as more or less plot holes, until the movie finally bothers to answer them. As such, every time the movie reveals a new story twist, it’s more, “Oh…” then “OH!”
The ending isn’t quite as satisfactory as it should be either. Without spoiling anything, the film doesn’t bother to consider the ethics, the pressing questions about the personal identity of its protagonist. Suffice to say, better, deeper movies have explored what makes their character unique in the face of other characters with similar appearances. Oblivion aims for poeticism when it hasn’t anything to offer for the audience to chew on by the time the credits roll. That Jack owns a copy of A Tale of Two Cities is a big clue, but even that narrative didn’t spare us the hard truth of its subject matter.
Still, as a pre-summer distraction not aiming to be anything more than the weekend champ, Oblivion works. It looks pretty, it’s well acted, and it’s original enough to warrant a look, providing solid escapist popcorn entertainment.