out of Five
Running time: 126
Beautifully shot and impeccably designed, Oblivion is a visual feast with strong performances and an intriguing central mystery, but it's slightly let down by a nakedly derivative script and a general lack of warmth.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Joseph Kosinski (adapting his own unpublished graphic novel), Oblivion is set on a ravaged, post-apocalyptic Earth, where giant machines are mining the last of the planet's natural resources in order to send the surviving humans (currently orbiting the Earth in a giant space station called The Tet) to a terraformed moon of Saturn. Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, a WALL-E-like drone technician whose job is to protect the machines from Scavengers on the surface, with his wife Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) overseeing his missions from their flashy sky-high apartment, where she takes orders from Tet-based controller Sally (Melissa Leo).
However, Jack is haunted by dreams of a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) and images of a 21st century New York that he never saw first-hand. And when he finds a still-alive body in a crash that resembles the woman in his dreams, he begins to question what his superiors have been telling him, all of which is compounded when he discovers an underground community of human survivors led by Beech (Morgan Freeman).
The film is visually stunning, thanks to some exceptional location work (large portions of the film were shot in Iceland) and Claudio Miranda's sumptuous cinematography, all of which is heightened by some truly gorgeous production design work (the drones are particularly impressive, behaving like flying, heavily-armed angry silver balls). There's also a terrific score, courtesy of Anthony Gonzalez and M83.
Cruise delivers a solid performance as Jack, though Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (as Beech's right-hand man) are both painfully underused and Kurylenko gets bafflingly little to do, considering her importance to the plot. At any rate, the acting honours are roundly stolen by Riseborough, who's terrific as Victoria and is given some utterly mesmerising close-ups by Kosinski that rival the shots of the desolate landscape.
It's almost impossible to avoid comparing Oblivion with Kosinski's previous feature Tron: Legacy, since both films can be accused of favouring style over substance. This time round, the script has an intriguing central mystery at its heart, but the surrounding story is often distractingly derivative, with one moment in particular feeling like much too much of a rip-off rather than a simple homage.
On top of that, the film has an ultimately distancing lack of warmth, humour and emotion, part of which is down to the script, but is also the result of a fatal lack of chemistry between Cruise and Kurylenko. There are also a number of frustrating plot holes, though they should at least fuel healthy post-film pub discussion.
Oblivion is worth seeing for its incredible production design and its stunning visuals, but the story never quite engages on an emotional level.