"We won the war, but we lost our home", laments Tom Cruise's Jack Harper in Oblivion's textbook opening voiceover, with an amalgam of ennui, self-parody and faux-sincerity. It is a pretty good indicator of what is to come over the next 126 minutes from Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski's by-the-numbers apoca-bore; even the name Jack Harper is indicative of the lack of creative effort that has gone into Oblivion. Set in 2077, 60 years after Earth is devastated by an alien invasion, the film follows Jack Harper, a handy man who solitarily roams the now desolate planet maintaining and fixing the drones that are keeping the aliens at bay while Earth's remaining resources are extracted for use on the new human colony on Titan. Harper lives an uneventful existence with his wife, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), living in a giant iPod and counting the days until they can join the rest of the human race. Things get complicated, however, when Harper begins to have visions of a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) in pre-war New York, and when said woman literally falls out of the sky and claims to be his wife, Jack begins to question what he knows about his mission, and indeed, himself.
It is unsurprising that Kosinski's focus lies mainly with the aesthetic, creating a world that is impressively realised without being immersive. The design of the film is a familiar one, with partially submerged American landmarks, ominous skies and the sleek white interiors that are mandatory in any sci-fi blockbuster. However, there is an aberrant beauty in the bleakness of the snow-capped hills that Harper surveys while doing his rounds, and the decision not to present the film in 3D gives it a sense of scale that was lost in last year's Prometheus. But as well rendered as this backdrop may be, it ultimately feels like window dressing that's trying to distract us from the fact that what's happening to our central character is so flaccid and dull.
Kosinski claims that Oblivion is a love letter to the science fictions films of the 1970's, which is true insofar as he selectively 'borrows' ideas, plot lines and twists from everything from Planet of the Apes to Wall-E and ham-fistedly scrunches them into a ball of plagiarism, passing it off as homage. Oblivion is completely devoid of original ideas, and it's hard to recall a film that is quite so unashamedly derivative, with every plot development and line of dialogue ringing with familiarity. At a time in which a $130 million dollar sci-fi film that isn't part of a franchise is something to celebrate, the staggering cynicism shown in studio's belief that an A-lister and expensive visuals are enough satiate the needs of the multiplex audience is profoundly depressing.
Despite a talented cast, the drama is flat and mechanical. Even the usually reliable Cruise can't transcend the stodginess of William Monahan's script and he finally looks as if the once arduous task of saving the world has become a bothersome, formulaic affair. Olga Kurylenko does a passable job in the early flashback scenes, but problems arise when she is required to act and speak. She spends most of the film wondering around like a lost child and seems surprisingly unimpressed by the whole event. Melissa Leo's unsettling southern drawl immediately indicates foul play, and Freeman and Risebourough are wasted in their roles.
Oblivion is an insultingly cynical, derivative and lazy clot of a film with clear aspirations for mediocrity; a meritless exercise in propheteering with a genuine contempt for its audience.