Film Review: ‘Oblivion’

Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise navigate the twists of "Oblivion." Credit: Universal Pictures
Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise navigate the twists of “Oblivion.” Credit: Universal Pictures

‘Oblivion’
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) globes

It’s not clear when sci-fi and comics culture — once solely the realm of nerds — became the dominant pop culture product. Real fans can take solace that most of these products emphasize two things about which they could (hopefully) care less: mindless spectacle and emotion. The mega-budgeted “Oblivion,” starring plucky comeback kid Tom Cruise, holds our hands as it guides us through a twisty, almost hard sci-fi premise concerning a post-apocalyptic Earth. And like “Inception,” it ultimately wants to appeal to touchy feelings, not sterling brain power. It’s also sometimes rather dumb.

“Oblivion” is the kind of sci-fi that opens with an amusingly protracted opening narration. Cruise is a mysterious worker mysteriously working on a mysterious project reaping what resources remain from the now-barren Earth. (Cue shots of a collapsed Pentagon and the Washington Monument leaning over a miserable moat. The latter also took a beating in another recent blockbuster featuring Melissa Leo, “Olympus Has Fallen.”) Cruise admits that he’s had his mind wiped, but he has stray memories of hanging atop the Empire State Building with a woman played by Olga Kurylenko, which are, alas, not outtakes from “To the Wonder.”

There are revelations en route, none of them worth spoiling, involving the true nature of Cruise’s superiors (embodied by Oscar winner Leo, seen entirely on an unaccountably discombobulating scene that makes her look like Max Headroom). There’s also the issue of a group of leftover humans skulking about in caves, led by a cigar-chomping Morgan Freeman (in a glorified cameo). And are we sure we know much about this Cruise fella? Even playing a cipher in a far-flung future, Cruise plays the classic Cruise rebel: a cocky smart aleck who takes risks but remains consummately serious when need be, much to the consternation of his rational killjoy co-worker/hottie ladyfriend (Andrea Riseborough).

What follows is not exactly original, and it calls to mind films one wouldn’t want to recall. The armed-to-the-teeth, probably not-so-good drones (insert topical joke here) resemble the boxy floating robots from “The Black Hole.” Meanwhile one plot point is that the moon has been destroyed —wasn’t that the Deceptacons’ plot in the second “Transformers”? Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) is a clean and patient director, a perfect fit for a film in non-3-D IMAX and for a screenplay that takes its time in laying out its game plan, wisely recognizing that the journey is superior to the far-too-pat destination.


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