Writer-director Joseph Kosinski follows up his 2010 directorial debut, TRON: Legacy, with another sci-fi visual feast, this time adapted from his own graphic novel, Oblivion.
Oblivion opens on a rapid-fire prologue outlining decades of war with alien invaders. Known as Scavs, these alien aggressors plundered the moon, throwing Earth into a chaos of tsunamis and earthquakes. A nuclear war followed, leaving Earth uninhabitable, with all remaining human survivors now relocated to Saturn’s moon, Titan. This whirlwind scene-setting undermines the film’s early mystery and Oblivion starts out predictably rooted within the sci-fi genre.
Colleagues and lovers, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), live alone on a control tower amidst the clouds. Their job is to ensure Earth’s resources are successfully collected for deployment to Titan by repairing mechanical Drones. With their memories wiped, Jack and Victoria share an odd, emotionally sparse relationship - dispassionately defined as an ‘effective team’.
Much of Oblivion’s first 30 minutes is spent in the company of Jack and his daily Drone maintenance routine. This leisurely pace gives viewers plenty of opportunity to take in the meticulous and engrossing world Kosinski has created. Yes, his landscape is littered with predictable architectural relics, from the Empire State Building to the New York Public Library, and the clinical minimalism of the control tower plays into swelling futuristic cliches, but the rigorous attention to detail and sheer scale of the terrain makes Oblivion a satisfying visual binge.
Yet there are downsides to Oblivion’s early, gentle pacing as Kosinski throws in an indulgent love scene and some saccharine patriotism. Jack’s enthusiastic re-enactment of the 2017 Superbowl in a devastated stadium, is far from the film’s finest hour, offering us little more than superficial insight into Jack’s character. Stick with Oblivion though and it throws a science-fiction curveball as a volatile mystery unfolds with surprises at every turn. As Jack begins to glimpse his memories, everything he knows is called into question, and Oblivion becomes an intriguing, corkscrew sprint to a neat and tidy conclusion.
Andrea Riseborough brings the sharpest performance to the table, injecting her role with a coolness and steadfast respect for the rules that maintains an enigmatic impression throughout. Cruise, on the other hand, struggles to shake off typecasting and throws in a few cheesy expressions worthy of Friends’ Joey, but capably carves out a hero to root for in a problematic role that ultimately lacks emotional depth.
Kosinski has created a convincing future, carried through with masterful visual effects and a soundtrack bulging with bold and futuristic synths. Oblivion rapidly picks up the pace after a relaxed first act to deliver a volatile plot packed with surprises. What it lacks in character, Oblivion makes up for in twists, but any lasting mystery is eroded by trite time-shifts that bookend this entertaining sci-fi mystery.
Running Time: 125 minutes