If Tom Cruise movies are any indication, an alien invasion really is coming. Whether it’s a bunch of Tripods descending on New Jersey, or an attack in 2017 that leaves the moon destroyed and the Empire State Building buried under 1,000 feet of silt, make no mistake– the future isn’t pretty for humanity.
And if Joseph Kosinski movies are any indication, that future will be super high-tech, glossy, and, frankly, pretty sterile. The director of 2010’s pretty-though-vacant Tron:Legacy is back with Oblivion, based on his own unpublished graphic novel, and though it’s certainly interesting to look at, the end result is a movie that squanders its really promising setup.
Sixty years after aliens invaded, humans have relocated to one of Saturn’s moons. All that remains on Earth are the remnants of the society that used to be (the destruction of the Earth’s moon and the widespread detonation of nuclear weapons rendered the world pretty much unlivable). Jack Harper (Cruise) and his communications officer girlfriend Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the only real live humans we see; they have two weeks left in their mission to “mop up” before they join the rest of civilization 750 million miles away.
While out on a repair mission, Jack sees a spaceship crash-land, and when he investigates he finds some people preserved in sleeping capsules, including a woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who’s been haunting his dreams lately. But since he had his memory wiped as a security precaution five years earlier, he can’t quite figure out what’s going on.
To make matters worse (though, sadly, not more interesting) he proceeds to get captured by the Scavs, a Mad Max-like group of humans, led by Beech (Morgan Freeman), that he never knew existed.
From there, things get far more complex and esoteric than need be, and Oblivion, which held the promise of a Asimov- or Bradbury-like bit of sci-fi fun, becomes nothing more than a heady romantic (?) drama.
Cruise, for his part, does his best to swim through the murky plot, following up last year’s Jack Reacher with another solid performance that would carry the movie if things weren’t so darn cumbersome and dull. And Freeman is pretty much wasted in his role, leaving us to wonder how much more interesting the movie would have been had it been told through the eyes of his character.
Even the visual jolt you would expect in seeing Washington D.C. leveled to the point where all that remains is a leaning, half-buried Washington Monument isn’t that exciting; it’s really nothing we haven’t seen already before in Planet of the Apes and The Day After Tomorrow.
Despite his talents, there’s no denying that Cruise isn’t the box office draw he used to be, and if he keeps saddling himself with forgettable fare like Oblivion, it’s unlikely he ever will be again.