Like Tron: Legacy, director Joseph Kosinski’s previous feature, Oblivion is perhaps best enjoyed as a two-hour music video. Kosinski has a flair for stunning imagery and an ear for epic, sweeping, and catchy scores. The less one thinks about his films, the better.
Set in 2077, in the years following an alien attack on Earth, Oblivion stars Tom Cruise as a technician named Jack who spends his days repairing drones that guard a series of nuclear reactors dedicated to converting the planet’s oceans into fuel for a terraforming expedition to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
The drones are in place to kill "Scavs," remnant forces of the alien expedition who were defeated after the Earth’s nuclear powers unleashed their weapons on the invaders. Radiation has poisoned the land. Earth’s cities lay in ruins after aliens destroyed the moon, unleashing earthquakes and tsunamis on the planet below. Colonizing Titan is humanity’s last hope.
Jack’s memories have been wiped by his superiors—who live on the Tet, a huge spaceship that will transport humanity’s remnants to Titan—for reasons that are never made entirely clear to Jack or to the audience. Some of those memories haunt Jack’s dreams, however, causing tension with his coworker, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough).
Jack knows something is wrong, but he can’t quite figure out what. He frequently retreats to a cabin in the woods that is invisible to the Tet and to Victoria, and listens to Led Zeppelin LPs and shoots hoops. He reads of Super Bowl games played in the distant past, imagining what it would have been like to live back then.
Nevertheless, he remains content to do the work he is assigned—until an encounter with the Scavs leaves him questioning everything.
I’m being as vague as possible to avoid spoiling any of the twists and turns for those of you who want to see this entertaining movie. It is worth noting, however, that the whole is much less than its parts. Should one spend a few moments actually thinking about Oblivion’s various conundrums and plot points, one quickly will realize Oblivion is an illogical mess which annoyingly abuses the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.
With Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy, there was some excuse for the aimlessness, dead-end plot points, and illogical focus on the wrong issues: four different screenwriters are credited in that film, and who-knows-how-many executives meddled with what Disney hoped would turn into a tent pole franchise.
Oblivion, though, is straight from Kosinski’s imagination. He developed the idea before beginning work on Tron; saw it sidetracked during the writer’s strike; and resurrected it as a graphic novel (which was never released).
Kosinski’s deep personal connection to the project makes Oblivion’s derivative nature all the more frustrating. Plot points, images, and themes are cobbled together from a raft of sci-fi films including The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, Wall-E, and Planet of the Apes, among others.
Complaints about plausibility, logic, or common sense aside, the film looks great. Kosinski has an obvious flair for set design and action sequences. And it sounds great, as well. The electro-pop band M83 pulls soundtrack duties and does a fantastic job, delivering an audio accompaniment best described as a mashup of Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack and Hans Zimmer’s scores for Inception and The Dark Knight Rises.
Oblivion is properly viewed in IMAX, where the "laser-aligned" (and eardrum-popping) sound and a domineering screen overwhelm the senses. Sit back and enjoy the ride—but don’t be surprised if you’re a little annoyed at where your journey ends.