Tom Cruise continues his quest for relevancy and eternal youth with “Oblivion”, in which a man who looks nowhere near his fifty years manages to once again save the universe in what could best be described as an effective but generic sci-fi thrillers. Taking cues, and huge chunks of plot, from stuff like Star Trek IV, Silent Running, Adjustment Bureau, The Matrix, I Am Legend, Solaris, Total Recall, Planet of The Apes, Wall-E, Moon, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and boatloads of Philip K Dick, the film suffers – not on its own merits – but by being so obviously enthrall to the golden age of thinking Sci-Fi (1968-1982) and its own cleverness.
It's by no means a bad film at all : certainly its a fresh take on the Sci-fi film (of late, much filmed Sci-Fi is either pointlessly dirty and gritty, or bonecrushingly stupid that an small child can expose the plot points with rottweiler viciousness) – but perhaps one that rewards more if you expect less.
Of course, it looks gorgeous. Channelling nothing so much as the design of Minority Report, it is set in a bizarre world of a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland that conveniently used to be New York. Why is everything in a post-apocalyptic universe set in New York? Naturally, as in every film set in New York, the Statue Of Liberty suffers some awful fate, largely involving falling over on its side or tilting a bit. This does not neccesarily cover for a lack of invention : the core plot points, amnesia, identity, duty and deception, are straight out of the Christopher Nolan sketchbook with a huge dollop of Philip K Dick. Plot wise, if you squeeze this enough, the flaws come out in an embarrassment : however, it is in the execution, and the not the core concept, that the film falls over. It makes a certain kind of logical sense, but does manage to fall over in a certain key areas : how do people eat? Where do they get clothes from? Who makes the bad guys bullets? All these things worry me, the lack of key infrastructure to support the existence of certain characters is something I find disconcerting. At least I could imagine the Death Star having a canteen and sleeping quarters.
The cast is small – about 8 people overall – with the beautifully improbable Andrea Riseborough providing plotless nudity and sex as well as the clear yin to Cruise's more reckless Yang. On a cast basis, it is also undone by Morgan Freeman's appearance, largely as the generic Magic Negro who explains everything but who is also these days wheeled in as the voice of meaningful gravitas, cashes a paycheck and smokes the obligatory useless cigar. On the other hand, this makes any Michael Bay film look like the absolute brainwrong tripe it always was, and borders dangerously close to the film adaptation of the best book Philip K Dick never wrote, apart from the occasional sentimentality.
It's by no means a bad film – at all – and a confident and promising second step in Kosinski's journey, a clear vision, and suffers only from a slight elasticity in its generic logic and familiar plotting. What comes next will be the true sign of talent.