The year is 2077 and Tom Cruise hasn’t aged a day, looking nearly identical to the man who trekked across the nation in an antique convertible with Dustin Hoffman (if you missed that reference, it’s Cruise as Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man, 1988). From the legendary and cinematic genius director of TRON: Legacy and producers of the world hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Oblivion tells the convoluted, pretzel-twist tale of one man’s life on an unrecognizable Earth after a 60-year war with an alien threat known only as “scavengers”.
Director Joseph Kosinksi takes a familiar approach to the classic sci-fi movie, full of “huh?” moments and plenty of “I’m lost…” looks on the faces of viewers. On a spectacular future Earth that has evolved beyond recognition, Jack Harper (Cruise) serves as a security repairmen stationed on the evacuated planet. Football stadiums lay in ashy ruins, the Washington Monument sits slanted in hundreds of feet of debris, craters and desolate landscapes fill the terrain of a once vibrant and thriving planet. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with the terrifying alien threat who still scavenges what’s left of Earth, Jack’s mission is almost complete. In a matter of two weeks, he will join Earth’s remaining survivors on Saturn’s moon, Titan, where a lunar colony has formed far from the war-torn world he has long called home.
I found the opening scene and introduction of Oblivion to be quite interesting – a montage of dream sequences and voiceovers from Cruise detailing how he came to be who he is. It was the only part of the film that I found not confusing – from there on out, much like a baby’s stuffed teddy bear, the details were somewhat fuzzy.
Living in and patrolling the breathtaking skies from thousands of feet above in a Jetsons styled home that reeks of IKEA’s future catalogue collection, Jack and his submissive, sex-kitten supervisor Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the only ones left behind on the destroyed planet. Their memories were wiped before they were assigned to their not-so-glamorous gig of repairing oval-shaped drones that patrol the various zones controlled by the lunar colony.
Even though his memory has been erased, Jack still has flickers of the past—mostly of a beautiful mystery woman (Quantum of Solace’s Olga Kurylenko) on the Empire State Building’s observation deck (which we see intermittently throughout the film as being surrounded by a mountain of tsunami-dumped ocean mud). Then one day, Jack investigates a spacecraft that crash lands in the desert and finds the jettisoned crew of the ship asleep in delta-mode; essentially, the kind of “sleep” astronauts are put under when traveling through space. And here comes the real clincher: the only one to survive the crash landing is…the woman from his dreams.
This is where that fuzzy stuffed animal comes in.
Jack’s discovery makes him question his mission and his identity. His towering existence is brought crashing down after he rescues the beautiful stranger from her downed spacecraft. Drawn to Jack through a connection that transcends logic, her arrival and interruption between the dynamic of Victoria and Jack triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything he thought he knew.
Through marathon chase scenes in lunar vehicles reminiscent of the World of Warcraft video games, and by way of his not-so-erased memories from the past, Jack discovers that the woman he rescued from the downed aircraft is his wife from years before. She, asleep for the past 60 years, helps him recall his proposal atop the Empire State Building and brings back the love they once shared. Typical Hollywood – someone’s always gotta fall in love, right?
Jack discovers that he has been working for the wrong side all along – and that the bad guys he works to contain each day are, in fact, the good guys. Among them is Morgan Freeman, who tasks Jack with rewiring one of the scavenger’s drones to defect and deliver a uranium bomb to the lunar colony he has been working tirelessly to protect. With a reality that is shattered as he discovers shocking truths that connect him to Earth of the past, Jack is pushed to a heroism he didn’t know he contained within. The fate of humanity (essentially just Morgan Freeman’s crew and Kurylenko) now rests solely in the hands of a man who believed the world, as he knew it, was soon to be lost forever.
Kosinki’s use of special effects is definitely worthy of praise, as is Cruise’s ability to still kick some major butt at 50 years old, proving why he’s been a perfect vehicle of spirited Hollywood professionalism for the past three decades. The plot is tirelessly confusing, suffering from too many duplicate characters (Cruise, at one point, fights himself in the desert, then dies, then comes back to life?) and an all-too-familiar sensation that you’ve seen this all before. Only problem is – that “before” was so much better.
On the Green Team hue scale of sea foam to lush leprechaun emerald, Oblivion sits comfortably at mint green – not all that boring and dull but terribly complicated and complexly familiar.
I think it’s also quite ironic that the film is titled Oblivion – that’s exactly where I found myself after leaving the theatre.