It’s easy to ridicule Oblivion. It keeps a straight face when it says things like: “Without the moon, the world was thrown into chaos.” That would be difficult enough to take seriously if Stephen Hawking was saying it, let alone Tom Cruise.
It takes place after The War with an alien race, which decided the best way to conquer humanity would be to DESTROY THE MOON. Humanity responded in the only way it knew how – by exploding a load of nuclear weapons, which somehow won the war, at the expense of, you know, absolutely everything. It would be safe to say it was a pyrrhic victory. So what do you do next? You move everybody who survived to Saturn’s moon Titan, of course. Everyone, that is, except for Tom Cruise’s Jack Harper, who is tasked with repairing the drones that protect giant water processing units that are transporting entire oceans across space to support the human race on its new home. Sure, why not?
Despite all this, Oblivion is a surprisingly adept sci-fi thriller. One of its strengths is not trying to do too much – the first hour is largely scene setting. The cinematography and CGI are stunning and director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) is happy to let you sit back and enjoy the landscape, which includes some interesting twists on the bombed-out iconic landmarks trope (“You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you!”).
And when it does get going, the plot is actually pretty smart. It won't win any awards for best screenplay but it slithers in directions you probably won't be expecting. The action sequences are OK: run, shoot, boom, zap, crash etc etc, but they are more than a little derivative – especially the scene lifted wholesale from the finale of Star Wars: A New Hope.
The 50-year-old Tom Cruise essentially plays a 30-year-old Tom Cruise. It’s unsettling how little he has aged in the last two decades. It almost makes you think twice about this Scientology lark until you remember fellow believer John Travolta, who looks like a melted action man. Anyway, Jack swaggers around the desolate post-apocalyptic landscape, fixing pieces of impossibly advanced machinery using gum, reminiscing about American football games that took place decades before he was born and generally being heroic. He's the kind of character you can imagine saying: “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast,” in they style of Red Dwarf’s Rimmer.
Andrea Riseborough, still probably best known for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Long Walk to Finchley, shows she she can do Hollywood, with a simmering turn as Jack’s jobsworth colleague/lover Victoria. She stars in one particularly memorable scene involving what must be the coolest swimming pool ever depicted on film. Best of all though is Melissa Leo as the creepy deep-south drawling corporate liaison who checks in with Jack and Victoria every so often to make sure they are still “an effective team”.
If Oblivion had been released 15 years ago, people would probably have gone wild for it. As it is, in this post-Matrix, post-Inception, post-Looper world, it’s just another twisty sci-fi romp. And there’s nothing wrong with that.