Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Movie review: Oblivion


Tom Cruise has never been a big sci-fi kind of guy. Sure, he was in Minority Report. But maybe he read too many of L. Ron's ropey books. Maybe being named after a missile was enough not to feel the need to play rocketman.

But after the mixed results of Rock of Ages and Jack Reacher, it's time for Tom to go back to the future. And in the ultra-stylish, grandly atmospheric, ultimately saggy and wholly derivative Oblivion, Cruise gets to play that ye olde sci-fi chestnut: The Last Man on Earth.

Or near enough to it. Fortunately he's shacked up with the last woman on Earth (the gorgeously icy Riseborough) in a flash Jetsons-meets-Jobs penthouse in the clouds, complete with glass-bottomed infinity pool and rather more curtains than you probably need at this altitude or point in the history of interior design.

He flies to work in his jetcopter. She works from home with him, keeping an eye on his job maintaining the spherical heavily-armed flying robots - which should give Gerry Anderson fans Terrahawks flashbacks - which patrol the surface below.

It's 2077, Cruise's Jack Harper tells us, and when the aliens came 60 years ago they smashed the Moon. If that wasn't devastating enough, the world nuked the invaders and left much of the Earth looking a vast quarry, but for the occasional American landmark poking out of the surface.

Everybody who survived has now headed to Saturn's moon Titan and there are giant processing plants sucking energy out of the oceans to support life on the new colony. Hence the killer droids protecting the mega-waterworks from the last few surviving "Scavs".

Meanwhile, a cute little non-flying robot with remarkably expressive visual scanners discovers a plant ... whoops wrong movie.

The dutiful Jack and Victoria have only two weeks to go on their clean-up mission before they can join the rest of humankind and make some memories, theirs having been wiped as a security precaution, apparently - which explains why she doesn't know not to go swimming and/or have sex in your high-altitude glass-bottomed pool right after dinner.

So that's how Oblivion starts, with its vast head-in-the-clouds sense of isolation above the designer devastation below.

Oh and Jack is having dreams about a woman (Kurylenko) and a pre-invasion rendezvous at the top of the Empire State Building.

Yes, as well as lifting from a vast list of sci-fi films, this also pinches from An Affair to Remember by way of Sleepless in Seattle.

If Oblivion is a very pretty apocalypse, that's down to director Kosinski, who based this on his own unpublished graphic novel. This is the CGI specialist's second directing gig after Tron: Legacy, a movie of grand glistening surfaces, minimalist decor and pulsating soundtrack care of Daft Punk.

This has too, with another French electronica outfit, M83, pressing the button marked "le grandeur" throughout. Though it also swerves into classic rock, when Jack is pondering the good old days he can't remember. Even Procol Harum's White Shader of Pale, like cockroaches, will survive the end of the world.

And it's a film that can look like a combo of 70s prog-rock album and sci-fi paperback covers rendered large and vertiginous.

But after its imaginative set-up, it's a movie which soon comes back down to earth with a bump - quite literally as a spaceship carrying a crew of astronauts in suspended animation crash lands and only one survives - it's Julia (a decorative but unconvincing Kurylenko) the girl of Jack's dreams.

Of course, she holds the key to everything. So too do a band of underground dwellers led by Morgan Freeman - whose job here might be to explain stuff but who barely gets a chance in his curiously underwritten role.

By the time we've encountered Freeman and crew(which also includes an underemployed Game of Thrones' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and our own Zoe Bell) this is suffering serious story sag.

The latter half of Oblivion juggles a too-high shoot 'em up quotient with its narratives twists, but soon defaults to just making the next action waypoint.

So it becomes very much a Tom Cruise movie. As in, see Tom shoot, ride his motorbike, do Top Gun stuff, make meaningful eye contact with his female co-stars, neither of which he has much chemistry with - more than that Hollywood rarity, a non-franchise sci-fi original.

That said, it's a pretty good Cruise-flick. The boy just might have a future in the genre.

Stars: 3.5/5
Cast: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Zoe Bell.
Director: Joseph Kosinki
Running time: 124 mins
Rating: M (violence and nudity)
Verdict: High style sci-fi let down by story sag and action quota

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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