Cruisin’ to ‘Oblivion’

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

A paper-thin, unoriginal story that is emotionally hollow yet somewhat protected by impressive production values, particularly a splendid score composed by an established, appreciated band. Such words aptly summarize 2010’s eye candy extravaganza, “Tron: Legacy,” which was director Joseph Kosinski’s first feature film. How ironic is it, then, that those very words apply to his sophomore effort, “Oblivion,” almost three years later. Well, at least this Tom Cruise-starring sci-fi flick slightly edges out his previous neon-lit outing, though that’s not saying much.

In the year 2077, Jack Harper (Cruise) is one of the few humans stationed in a war-ravaged, post-nuclear Earth. Sixty years prior, aliens called the Scavengers attacked the planet and destroyed the Moon, resulting in tectonic upheaval which, coupled with nuclear war, rendered Earth uninhabitable. Survivors now live on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and in the Tet, a space station above Earth.

Jack, along with his lover and fellow officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), is involved in an operation to extract water from the oceans. His primary task is to provide maintenance for drones, which destroy prowling Scavengers and protect the colossal, water-extracting machines. About two weeks before they are due to leave Earth, Jack encounters a downed spaceship and rescues Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a mysterious woman who has been appearing in his dreams and will lead him to question everything he thought he knew.

“Oblivion” pays homage to science fiction films, as such influences are peppered throughout, but doing so simply exposes itself as being too overambitious. Jack and Victoria’s lifestyle and mission recall “Wall-E,” the plot is quite similar to “Moon,” and there is a lot of imagery that hearkens back to the big daddy above them all, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It isn’t ill-advised to have tributes to other films in this magnificent genre, but here, they serve as stark reminders of those films for the viewer, reminders that remain in the mind throughout the film’s duration. That said, those allusions become distractions that take the viewer out of the film, which reaches for the heights of other films but fails to accomplish just that.

The coldness of the world that “Oblivion” portrays extends into its story. Not much of a backstory is provided for any of the characters, though the absence of it is appropriate for some — such as the creepy Victoria, whom Riseborough hits all the right notes for the emotional bridge between — for the sake of mystery and suspense. As a result, the emotional bridge between the film and the viewer is quite nonexistent. Specifically, the relationship between Jack and Julia, which should provide the emotional rapport the story needs in order for the viewer to get involved in the story, never gets off the ground due to the lack of chemistry between Cruise, who turns in a solid performance, and Kurylenko, who is incapable of making more than one facial expression for the entire film.

Also disappointing is the film’s share of plot holes, loose ends, and chances that it doesn’t take. Questions regarding the possibility of an action or event will pop up a number of times. Though suspension of disbelief is necessary for any sci-fi film to work, it’s difficult to maintain it here. As for the missed opportunities, it’s a shame that a talented actor such as Morgan Freeman is relegated to what ends up being a rather miniscule role, a role that definitely could have been expanded and explored, especially since his reveal plays a noteworthy function in the film’s second act.

The craft that went into the film is nothing short of magnificent. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda, fresh off his Oscar win for “Life of Pi,” captures sweeping imagery of a dilapidated Earth, and the sleek production design is best typified by the towers, where Jack and Victoria reside in, that reach far into the sky. French electronic band M83 provides a rousing score that perfectly complements the action and imagery.

“Oblivion” is a marginally better film than “Tron: Legacy” in that it has a more enjoyable and less lazy story, but it still suffers from the same problems. The film’s world is certainly one to audibly and visually experience, but that alone — especially without an involving story — ultimately isn’t enough for the film to reach the heights that it aims for.

Only recommended if: If you appreciate “Tron: Legacy,” then you can appreciate this flick.