Scavs. Drones. Bubble ships. The Tet.
There are times when Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi needs anappendix.
Maybe that’s the price you pay for trying to carve out an original futuristic tale in an era of overly familiar remakes and comic-book adaptations.
Cue an inordinately lengthy voiceover intro, telling us we’re in the year 2077 and Earth was almost wiped out 60 years earlier in a war with aliens.
The set-up sees Tom Cruise in full-on cocksure mode as Jack Harper, a blue-collar repairman servicing drones that patrol the surface of our nuked planet, zapping the remaining alien “scavs”.
He works with Andrea Riseborough’s glacial Victoria. They live in a big tower with a swimming pool and have zero chemistry.
Soon they’ll be leaving to join Earth’s survivors off-planet, says Melissa Leo’s eerie commander, orbiting in a ship called The Tet.
Harper, who likes to reminisce about baseball and listen to Led Zeppelin in secret when he’s not flying his bubble ship, sees his world turn upside down with the arrival of Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a crash-landing survivor who has been haunting his dreams.
There’s more – thanks to Morgan Freeman in a pair of cool sunglasses – but that’s peeling back too many of Oblivion’s onion-like layers.
Stemming from an unpublished graphic novel by Kosinskihimself, for all its originality Oblivion feels too beholden to classic sci-fi from the past. Beautiful shots of landmarks half-buried recall Planet Of The Apes; the slab-like Tet is very 2001: A Space Odyssey; and, quite frankly, Freeman appears to be channelling Larry Fishburne in The Matrix.
All wonderful films to draw from, but the result is a patchwork quilt of ideas that never quite stitch together in a satisfactory way.
What’s great about Oblivion are the same elements that made Kosinski’s TRON: Legacy memorable. A former architecture student, he knows how to build worlds like few others in his profession.
Factor in the pulsating electronic score by M83 and, even if it doesn’t quite touch the magisterial music created by Daft Punk for TRON: Legacy, this is a film high on atmospherics.
Where it fizzles is its sluggish first-third. Gradually introducing us to his world, Kosinski takes a risk in holding back the action – and it doesn’t pay off.
It feels too sterile, unaided by one of Cruise’s more generic turns and the emotional vacuum of Riseborough’s performance. If it’s a noble failure, though, it deserves applause for trying to be different.