"Oblivion” is another movie that seems better suited for a video game than a motion picture. Watching the characters engage in endless shoot outs and explore vast, abandoned terrains, all you want to do is get your hands on a controller. Since a movie is unequipped with game play, though, you’re forced to sit back and merely observe the story. Then again, most modern video games have more three-dimensional characters and smarter plots than “Oblivion.” This science fiction mystery from director Joseph Kosinski isn’t completely without some good ideas, elevating it above “Transformers” schlock. It’s just unfortunate those ideas never meld into anything that intriguing.
Through some rushed, expositional narrative, Tom Cruise’s Jack Harper explains that aliens invaded earth, we won, but now the planet is in ruins. Jack has been left on earth to extract the planet’s remaining resources. His only two contacts are Victoria, his comrade played by Andrea Riseborough, and Sally, his commander played by Melissa Leo. Once their assignment is completed in two weeks, Jack and Victoria are supposed to join the remaining human survivors on a space station called Titan. Jack, however, is starting to have second thoughts about his mission and employers.
Jack has a reoccurring dream about a mysterious woman, played by Olga Kurylenko, who he apparently knew before the world was destroyed. Gee, I wonder who she could possibly be? Matters start to become clearer when he bumps into a resistance leader, played by Morgan Freeman, who explains that Jack has unknowingly been working for the enemy. Gee, who saw that plot twist coming from a mile away? Jack thus goes rogue on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth. Gee, we haven’t seen Cruise play that kind of character a dozen times before. For all it’s predictable moments, “Oblivion” does have a fair share of decent twists. By the time those twists occur, though, the audience is already so detached from the plot that they really don’t care anymore.
“Oblivion” borrows from numerous other science fiction films, like “Planet of the Apes,” “WALL-E,” “The Matrix,” and especially “Total Recall.” Regrettably, the movie’s tone is closer to last year’s bland, forgettable “Total Recall” remake than the fun, creative original. In addition to lacking a thoroughly entertaining mystery, “Oblivion” isn’t all that exciting, original, or humorous. It’s mostly a big fat bore with few distinct characteristics.
Although it is getting tiresome to see Cruise in this sort of role, he’s acceptable as the nonconformist hero. Kurylenko is dull as the lady who haunts Jack’s dream, having little on screen chemistry with Cruise. Freeman and Leo do their best to bring some grace to the project, but aren’t given a ton of depth. The only real standout performer is Riseborough, who is quite effective and tragic as Victoria. Too bad she’s absent for a large chunk of the film.
Kosinski based “Oblivion” on an unpublished graphic novel he created. His imagery certainly transfers well to film. The apocalyptic landscapes of New York, the space station where Sally resides, and the bubble ship Jack flies around in all look marvelous. But like Kosinski’s previous film, “TRON: Legacy,” “Oblivion” gives us plenty to look at and little to care about. There are some filmmakers who are visionaries first and storytellers second. Kosinski appears to fall into this camp.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.