OBLIVION is a slow-moving behemoth of a film that has been art-directed into a coma. Sure, its gorgeous to look at, but is just as sterile and cold as the retro-futuristic home its hero occupies. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, it retains the static quality of the paper-bound format.
In keeping with that format, it begins with a lengthy narration by that hero, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), explaining is great detail all that has befallen Earth of 60 years or so from now: the alien invasion, the nuclear option, the desperate plan to colonize another world. He also explains why he and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are a veritable Adam and Eve as they oversee the shutting down of Earth before moving on to that colony Titan, the largest of Saturns moons. Hes the tech, repairing drones by day so that they can guard the great hulking machines that are transferring earths resources and, thus, making colonization possible. Shes the communications officer, keeping a watchful eye on Jack as he zips about a desolate landscape of beached tankers and buried suspension bridges. By night they are romantic partners, coupling in a swimming pool suspended over the clouds, and whispering sweet nothings into each others ears as they await the magic day when they will join the rest of humanity on Titan.
But all is not right with Jack. Hes troubled with memories he shouldnt have of a woman he doesnt know. In fact, he should have no memories at all after having them wiped clean for security purposes before embarking on his current mission. Theres also something not quite right about the Scavs, the aliens still in situ on Earth, who come out by night to sabotage those hulking machines. Jack is further troubled when a close encounter with them results not in attempted murder, but rather of attempted capture, which makes no sense, and not even a romp in the swimming pool can quite clear Jacks head.
There is a moment when Jack suddenly finds himself plummeting to the ground, his lifeline having snapped. The look on Cruises face is his best acting in the entire film. Its not just surprise, but rather the look of uncomprehending shock of someone to whom the world defers and showers with money, that anything could possibly go wrong for a star of his magnitude. It has the hallmark of a genuine sense memory, and is the first and last time the film shows any signs of life. It putters along from one impressive special effect to a chaotic battle to another impressive special effect to another chaotic battle. At it goes, it ticks along the standard issue plot points. Jack has a harrowing escape. Jack has a love scene. Jack goes rogue. Jack makes a momentous decision. All this happens in the midst of many intimations of other, better speculative fiction, including the New York Public Library from LOGANS RUN. Lady Libertys torch from PLANET OF THE APES. HALs unblinking red eye from 2001. Theres even a shout-out to THE ENGLISH PATIENT, though one does not remember that being sci-fi. Nor was SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, but there is, nonetheless, a rendezvous on top of the Empire State Building, granted said top is not at ground level. There is also a troubling subtext about gender roles personified in Victorias preference for spike figure-skimming dresses while sitting alone at her com console all day, and the decidedly domestic turn her after-hours duties take her.
OBLIVION is an unfortunate title for a black hole of a movie. Manufactured in a plastic and perfunctory manner, it is provokes yawns, not ahs. Even Morgan Freeman seems bored while aiming a gangbuster of a futuristic gun at a pack of drones. Stale at its core, and rinky-tink around the edges, its sole purpose seems to be how long the camera can stay focused on a tight close-up of Cruises wonderfully ageless face, and this is a shame because it shows all too clearly that there is nothing much going on behind his eyes, not unlike the film itself, which has a certain glossy good looks, but nothing of real substance going on inside.