If there really are extraterrestrial lifeforms observing Earth from somewhere in the depths of space, it’s safe to conclude that humanity’s epic love/hate relationship with Tom Cruise would be a source of particular fascination. After all, he is routinely condemned by many due to his role as the very public face of Scientology. That being said, it hasn’t stopped vast swathes of cinema goers opening their wallets with abandon to ensure that he remains a reliable box office drawcard. Nor has is it given a major studio second thoughts about casting him as a lead in their next mega-budgeted tentpole production.
Which brings us to Oblivion. Reportedly adapted from an unpublished graphic novel by the film’s director Joseph Kosiniski, the film depicts Earth as a post-apocalyptic wasteland in the year 2073. A war with alien invaders has left the planet close to uninhabitable, and the surviving humans have opted to relocate elsewhere. Former marine Jack Harper (Cruise) and his colleague Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are overseeing the crucial final stages of securing Earth’s remaining resources to help with the resettlement. After rescuing Julia (Olga Kurylenko) from a crashed spacecraft, Harper begins to realise that what he has been told about the war and it’s aftermath may not hold up to closer scrutiny.
Kosiniski’s sole directorial credit prior to Oblivion was for 2010’s Tron:Legacy, drawing upon that film’s sleek and stylised version of the future once again. The film’s excellence from an aesthetic point of view unfortunately fails to carry over to the equally important arenas of story and audience engagement. In this sense, it shares more than a few overlapping similarities with last year’s sci-fi epic Prometheus. At the outset, both of the visually pleasing projects appear to be setting up a series of intricate narrative developments, only to instead deliver final acts that fall back on the crutches of well-worn genre tropes.
Cruise is on autopilot throughout, playing the swaggering everyman hero coming to terms with the fact that his mission may not be what it seems. A relative newcomer to the big-time, Riseborough brings a seductive charm to her supporting role. She manages to create at least a degree of rapport in her interactions with a complacent Cruise, especially when compared with Kurlenko’s otherwise unremarkable efforts.
This perhaps encapsulates the ultimately flawed nature of Oblivion. For all the sentiments expressed by its characters about the essential nature of the human spirit, watching the film is is a curiously sterile and alienating experience.
Oblivion is in Australian cinemas from 11 April through Universal Pictures.