If the world ended tomorrow and you only had enough time to grab three movies, which would they be?
If you answered, “Independence Day,” “Minority Report,” and a copy of “Star Wars Episode I” that only plays the pod race scenes, then you’ll enjoy “Oblivion.” Otherwise, you’ll spend two hours rolling your eyes at the action movie clichés while trying to remember what this movie reminds you of. Hint: it’s every other sci-fi action movie.
Tom Cruise stars in Oblivion, an original and groundbreaking cinematic event from the visionary director of TRON: Legacy and producers of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. On a spectacular future Earth that has evolved beyond recognition, one man’s confrontation with the past will lead him on a journey of redemption and discovery as he battles to save mankind. 2077: Jack Harper (Cruise) serves as a security repairmen stationed on an evacuated Earth. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying alien threat who still scavenges what’s left of our planet, Jack’s mission is almost complete. In a matter of two weeks, he will join the remaining survivors on a lunar colony far from the war-torn world he has long called home. Living in and patrolling the breathtaking skies from thousands of feet above, Jack’s soaring existence is brought crashing down after he rescues a beautiful stranger from a downed spacecraft. Drawn to Jack through a connection that transcends logic, her arrival triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything he thought he knew. With a reality that is shattered as he discovers shocking truths that connect him to Earth of the past, Jack will be pushed to a heroism he didn’t know he contained within. The fate of humanity now rests solely in the hands of a man who believed our world was soon to be lost forever. (Synopsis by Universal)
The first mistake is allowing a director to use his own unpublished graphic novel as the starting point for a script, dialing back the creativity for lack of any other input. The second mistake is allowing the director of “Tron: Legacy” to direct another movie. You remember “Tron: Legacy?” The film that reminded us that Jeff Bridges was so much better as The Dude. It is obvious early on that, when working on this script, Kosinski ran out of original ideas before he even finished sharpening his pencil. It is largely a mash up of several equally bad or marginally better films involving sci-fi plots from the last 20 years or so.
For a Tom Cruise sci-fi movie in the middle of April, you can’t expect the best. Yet “Oblivion” isn’t all bad – just the majority of it. The twist towards the end is relatively surprising. The actors largely perform their roles well—although I did feel excruciatingly bad for Morgan Freeman when, at points, his acting couldn’t make up for the hack job of a script. You’re so much better than this, Morgan. Without Cruise this would have been bordering on unwatchable. Despite his off-screen antics, he is a bankable commodity when it comes to making these types of movies: just enough of an action star to pull it off without turning Dwayne Johnson buffoonish.
What does work is the slickness of the film as a visual piece. The ravaged Earth is exceptionally rendered and a stunning backdrop—so stunning that you’ll spend more time staring at it then paying attention to the development of the story. Of course, Kosinski makes a continuous attempt at screwing up the scenery by awkwardly placing repeated reminders that we are set in New York. Pretty sure the severed hand of the statue of liberty was in at least three different locations. To make matters worse, the final confrontation with the CGI rendered “bad guy” is almost laughably bad. How bad? He argues with a giant sentient triangle.
“Oblivion” is full of those wonderful moments when you can’t believe someone didn’t come in and edit this script into something better. You know how to tell who the “bad” version of Tom Cruise is when he is fighting with the “good” Tom Cruise? The bad one wears a bandana! All these moments keep the audience from caring what happens to the characters or the fate of the planet. Part of that problem is that Cruise’s character is predestined to save the world. He is the classic hero, one whose ultimate sacrifice is repeated throughout the movie via an analog to Horatio Cocles. But there aren’t any flaws for the audience to doubt his success. So we don’t care about his journey. We know how it ends before it starts.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: Rent it. At least Cruise remembers to duck when he ejects from his space jet. RIP Goose.
TWO STARS out of four.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, brief strong language, and some sexuality/nudity.
Runtime: 2 hr. and 5 mins.