Film review: Oblivion

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Tom Cruise puts on a brave face and a decent performance as one of the last two humans on earth in Oblivion. Publicity photo. Tom Cruise puts on a brave face and a decent performance as one of the last two humans on earth in Oblivion. Publicity photo.

It may seem strange to suggest that a movie about the survival of the human race doesn’t have high stakes, but Oblivion, a movie about the survival of the human race, doesn’t feel as if it has high stakes.

What Oblivion does have is a unified vision, excellent production design, camera work and computer graphics, and solid performances from the entire cast. Tom Cruise, in particular, avoids some of the least attractive aspects of his superstar persona—the clapping and shouting and near-crying—and the rest of the cast is game, too.

Chalk it up to the handiwork of director Joseph Kosinski, who last disgraced movie screens with the beautiful but dazzlingly boring TRON: Legacy (Garrett Hedlund still hasn’t recovered). He’s learned a thing or two since then: Keep audiences guessing, and keep the suspense building.

Cruise is Jack Harper (for those counting, this is at least the third movie in which Cruise plays a guy named Jack). He and his teammate, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, looking markedly different from her appearances in W.E. and Disconnect), are the last two humans on Earth. They communicate with the Tet, a giant space station in Earth’s orbit.

The Tet houses other humans who are awaiting transport to Saturn’s moon, Titan, after a nuclear war on Earth against so-called Scavengers, alien invaders that succeeded in blowing up our moon. Our nuclear weapons did the rest.

Jack is in charge of securing giant vacuums in the remaining oceans that change seawater into energy for use on Titan. The few Scavengers left on Earth want to destroy them.

In all sci-fi, nothing is as it seems, and Jack is soon confronted with a horrible reality (even more horrible than being one of the last two people alive on Earth). The Tet may be lying to him, and to Victoria. And the Scavengers may not be what he thinks they are, and an old NASA spacecraft has crash-landed nearby—with survivors.

Sounds promising, and it probably should be, but it all happens so efficiently that it seems by-the-numbers. There’s more, of course, but there are genuine spoilers in Oblivion, though attentive viewers will figure everything out long before Jack and Victoria.

In fact, sometimes everything has such a decided lack of urgency, the mind begins drifting toward other non-important (but somewhat important) details. If Jack and Victoria are so afraid of radiation, why does Jack skip about without protection on the planet’s surface? Why does Victoria wear high heels on a dead planet where she’s the only woman?

Why haven’t the aliens, who supposedly traveled millions of light years, been able to figure simple communications tools? They can travel from the far reaches of the galaxy but haven’t mastered something as basic as Wi-Fi? Why do the filmmakers pretend “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin is the first track on any Zeppelin album? Do aliens really only travel through space to conquer other worlds?

Quibbles. But one doesn’t quibble when one’s interest is held. Good luck, Earth!

Oblivion, PG-13, 125 minutes, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

 

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