In the aftermath of a devastating war, Earth is all but lifeless, with only ex-Marine Jack Harper (Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) left to protect huge platforms that provide energy to the new human colony on Jupiter’s largest moon, Titan. During a routine exploration Jack stumbles across a life pod containing Julia (Kurylenko), a woman who he recognises from his dreams. While trying to understand why he knows the unknown woman, Jack is captured by a hidden insurgency force led by Malcolm Beech (Freeman) who imparts some cryptic clues as to the truth behind the war 60 years previous.
It’s clear from the opening scenes that Kosinki is invoking a large number of classic science fiction films. Oblivion‘s score is a rippling barrage of synthesiser sounds that could so easily have been lifted directly from any number of late 70s, early 80s science fiction films. There are questions of identity and memory, much like Total Recall and the persistent floating attack drones have red circular eyes like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can’t help but notice nods and references throughout, which becomes a little distracting. To recall memories of such a wide array of critically acclaimed films puts a lot of pressure on what is at its core a derivative, moody and surprisingly solemn science fiction film.
Kosinki’s knack of using CG is highlighted once again, as he follows the sumptuous visuals of TRON: Legacy, with a slightly more realistic, but none-the-less incredibly realised future Earth. The scenes as Harper’s helicopter-come-spaceship duck and weave through the barren landscape provide the most memorable moments, while the characterisation is a little thin. There’s so much glean and polish that the characters and their motivations get lost in the shuffle, which leaves a less than fulfilling sensation upon the films barmy climax. Luckily Cruise has more than enough screen presence and charisma to keep you interested in the rather two-dimensional Harper, while Riseborough excels in her secondary female role as Harper’s colleague.
Like so many modern science fiction films, so much effort goes into the art design that narrative, pacing and depth are seemingly sacrificed. It was the same with the remake of Total Recall and it is here where Oblivion finds its most obvious comparison and it’s an unpleasant one. There’s nothing actively damaging about the film, but there is little to take away from it either. The arching themes have been done before, and better. While the art design is exquisite now, but in 5 years it’ll look dated and any goodwill toward the film will likely have faded.