REVIEW: Visually Stunning 'Oblivion' Looks Like A Live-Action 'Wall-E'
Although Universal’s publicity department has asked that journalists refrain from spilling the secrets of Oblivion, the major revelations, once they arrive, will hardly surprise anyone familiar with Total Recall, The Matrix and the countless other sci-fi touchstones hovering over this striking, visually resplendent adventure. Pitting the latest action-hero incarnation of Tom Cruise against an army of alien marauders, director Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to Tron: Legacy is a moderately clever dystopian mindbender with a gratifying human pulse, despite some questionable narrative developments along the way. The less-than-airtight construction and conventional resolution may rankle genre devotees, though hardly to the detriment of robust overall B.O.
Getting the blockbuster season off to an early start on April 19, when it opens Stateside in wide release and in Imax theaters, Oblivion reps the latest test of Cruise’s bankability, coming mere months after he tried on a new ass-kicking persona with Jack Reacher. This time he’s Jack Harper, and without giving too much away, there’s an amusing, perhaps unintended existential subtext here about the somewhat interchangeable men of action Cruise has played over the course of his career. Still, the actor’s first foray into science fiction in eight years (if you don’t count Rock of Ages) comes with a more intriguing backstory than most.
It’s the year 2077, six decades after the people of Earth fought and vanquished an evil race of space invaders called Scavengers. But victory has come at a great cost. The planet is now an uninhabitable post-nuclear wasteland, and Jack (Cruise) is one of the last men still stationed on Earth, a fighter pilot/technician assigned to fend off stray Scavengers and repair the powerful drones overseeing a massive hydroelectric energy project necessary for the survival of the human species. It all looks and sounds a bit like a live-action remake of Wall-E, right down to the way the protagonist, spurred by natural curiosity and an unexpected love interest, finds himself on a dangerous unauthorized mission.
Until now, Jack has worked effectively enough with Vika (Andrea Riseborough), who guides his repair jobs with cool, formidable efficiency from the glassy confines of their high-tech home base (referred to as the Skytower, though it might as well be called the iPad). But unlike his partner, Jack is a dreamer and a bit of a poet, someone who can’t help reminiscing about the past or questioning everyone’s future. Haunted by pre-apocalyptic visions of a beautiful mystery woman (Olga Kurylenko), he can’t quite grasp why humanity, having won the war, has decided to permanently abandon its native planet for an uncertain future in space.
As he steers his sleek, pod-like aircraft over a landscape of eerie, desolate beauty, dotted with craters and radiation zones as well as lush, unspoiled lakes and valleys, Jack can’t quite shake the feeling that all is not as it appears to be, despite the chipper directives coming from the mothership (represented by a crackling TV image of Melissa Leo, boasting a deceptively sweet Southern drawl). Indeed, the audience will likely have a clear sense of what’s going on long before scribes Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn (working from a 2005 short story that Kosinski later developed into a graphic novel) get around to spelling things out; suffice to say the title refers to more than just the physical aftermath of Earth’s cataclysmic destruction.