Review by Jerry Roberts.
“Oblivion” takes place in one of those crummy futuristic landscapes where everything is a desolate wasteland, humanity is nearly gone and what functioning technology still exists is trying to kill us. This may not be too farfetched unless you stop to wonder why the only remains of the once thriving civilization are easily recognizable famous landmarks. Sticking out of the rubble are the remains of The Brooklyn Bridge, The New York Public Library, The Empire State Building and something that might be Giants Stadium. And, just when you think they’ve forgotten The Statue of Liberty, lo and behold, there she is!
What that really means is that “Oblivion” is a fun movie to behold. It is a science fiction movie whose virtues are almost exclusively technical. The movie looks great. It is photographed beautifully by Carlos Miranda, who just won an Oscar for “Life of Pi.” He makes the wastelands of Earth look genuine, we really feel as if we’re looking at a burned-out Earth.
The story, however, leaves something to be desired (a lot in fact). It is quite a ride, which is not really a compliment since ride eventually becomes one of tolerance. Here is a movie that takes about an hour’s worth of plot and stretches it just over two hours. It starts out okay, then gets dull, then gets boring, then gets somewhat interesting before wearing out its welcome.
The ideas are all there. The movie takes place in New York in the year 2077 after a victorious war against an alien race has left the planet a chemical wasteland. Most of the remaining humans have moved off to a more habitable moon and what is left on earth are a few workers who service mean-looking robot drones that defend resource stations from something called scavs – short for scavengers. Our focus falls on Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a worker bee who keeps the resource stations up and running. Meanwhile he flies around in a ship that looks – this is not a joke – like male genitalia. Make of that what you will.
Jack is wistful about Earth’s past, including whoever won the 2017 Super Bowl (he assures us it will be a great game – we’ll see). Back at his work station, he lives with the only other inhabitant, Vica (Andrea Riseborough), a gorgeous redhead with a British accent who fills is leisure time with dinner, sex and use of the company pool – this is a problem you WANT to have. They are watched over by a chipper but somewhat eerie supervisor named Sally (Melissa Leo) whom they only communicate with via a static-filled television monitor.
One day Jack gets a blip on his radar. Something is following him. What follows is a mystery that will be left to you. Some of this has been spoiled by the film’s trailer and all of it has been spoiled by some rather unkind critics. Suffice to say, Jack’s world is turned upside down. Things aren’t what they appear to be and the movie is an unfolding mystery with one layer after another being peeled back until we understand the reasons for Jack’s tenure on Earth. The plot can’t really be spoiled because neither can it be explained. That would require a booklet, or a glossary, or maybe even SparkNotes.
Anyway that’s where the movie falls apart. It opens with an intriguing mystery as Jack studies the remains of Earth, and then begins to unravel the mystery of his own definition of humanity. Then it gets complicated, then convoluted, then tedious, until finally it begins to test our patience. It has at least three endings too many and finally lands on the one that is probably the most predictable, not to mention sappy. It’s not unwelcomed because after a long haul we’re just glad to be done with it.
The movie was directed with some skill by Joseph Kosinski, whose only other credit was “TRON: Legacy”, another good-looking movie that was outdone by technology and a convoluted screenplay. He’s got all the visual fire in place. It’s great to look at, but it is so poorly told that you start wishing that after 126 minutes that there was less of it to behold.