Something’s wrong. Tom Cruise, or rather, Jack Harper, his character in the placid new science-fiction adventure Oblivion, can’t shake his dreams of a woman giving him the big eyes on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.
It’s 2077. Earth has been devastated by a war with invading aliens. Most of the remaining populace has been relocated to a Saturn moon. Jack has recently undergone a “mandatory memory wipe” and now goes about his work, a couple of weeks prior to his own exit from Earth. He’s a security guard and all-around Mr. Fix-It living and working high above what’s left of Earth’s surface in Tower 49 with his lover/colleague Victoria (Andrea Riseborough).
But who is this woman in Jack’s dreams? I mean, it’s Olga Kurylenko, also starring in the new Terrence Malick film To the Wonder, but who is she?
A sort of Partial Recall, Oblivion gives you a lot to think about. And too much time to think about it. The script by Karl Gajdusek (an interesting playwright) and Michael Arndt, based on an unpublished graphic novel by the director, Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy), weaves a tale involving governmental conspiracy, a revolutionary underground movement (Morgan Freeman plays the supercool head of the “scavs,” or scavengers) and various pro forma battle scenes that pit Cruise, in his spaceship or on his futuristic motorcycle, against a cadre of scowling, moonfaced mechanical flying drones, equipped with machine guns stolen from Attack of the Clones.
Jack knows something’s up when his HAL-9000-styled boss, Sally (Melissa Leo, seen only on video monitors and oozing the sort of fake charm that spells trouble), orders him to stay away from a crash-landing site. Does Jack follow orders? No. He follows his instinct, and rescues the surviving member of the downed U.S. spaceship. She is the woman of his dreams, played by Kurylenko, and from there Oblivion springs a surprise or two.
“Surprise” is a relative term. Kosinski’s rhythm and visual style are pretty square for such a squirrelly script: Each grave, purposeful exchange of dialogue (some of it pretty thick in terms of expositional backstory) is laid out very carefully, as if we’re idiots. The movie’s not bad for a while, but it’s made of spare parts from a lot of other movies, among them Total Recall, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 2001 riff Moon, a certain recent play by Caryl Churchill (can’t say; spoiler) and a few others.
What’s interesting about it is its tight focus on a handful of characters. Oblivion is odder and less conventional than your average forgettable star vehicle; at times it feels like a five-character play taking place in a digital-effects lab. But there’s not much energy to it. When you go to a futuristic, dystopian, post-apocalyptic barn dance starring Tom Cruise and his space guns, you expect a little zap with your thoughtful pauses.
Oblivion (PG-13) ★★☆☆☆