Oblivion certainly looks the part. And for a while it certainly feels like some kind of spectacle. Director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) is clearly focused on the visuals and the small details that go into a sci-fi flick. And as far as postapocalyptic versions of Earth go, this one’s pretty arresting. In an era where digital effects can allow filmmakers to do nearly anything, Kosinki’s vision is fairly restrained and believable, but above all, it’s distinctive.
However, as an architecture professor in his spare time, it should not come as a surprise to learn that Oblivion seems more designed by Kosinski than nurtured. He paints himself into an unfortunate corner once he wades into the story. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) tells us it’s 2077, and 60 years ago, alien invaders called scavengers blew up the moon, causing all sorts of fallout on Earth and leading to a crippling war. Most of the planet is uninhabitable, and Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) work together monitoring the drones that keep their resources safe from scavengers.
On one recon mission Jack finds a crashed ship with human survivors, including a mysterious woman from his recurring dreams (Olga Kurylenko). Her arrival causes a big shift in Jack’s worldview and, unfortunately for us, a big right turn into unnecessary puzzle-solving. A film this gorgeous needn’t be so complex just to prove its intelligence. Oblivion throws in Morgan Freeman as our human decoder ring, creates an entirely new conflict more than an hour in and starts to showcase bombast instead of its beautifully designed visuals.
Some of that, it must be said, catches fire. But all told, the second half of Oblivion suffocates the fantastic first hour. The two leading ladies have a bit to offer and Cruise is his usual solid though unspectacular self, but the real star is Joseph Kosinki’s imagination, which plays the dual role of hero and villain.