In the year 2077, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) remember nothing of their pasts. Their memories were wiped by their colleagues at the command center, called the Tet, after they took a job as a “mop-up crew” on the now-abandoned surface of Earth. Some survivors of the alien race (called Scavs) who caused the nuclear annihilation of the planet, still pose a threat for Jack as he goes around repairing drones that monitor the desolate land for the hostile aliens. But as is the case with your standard sci-fi movie, there is obviously more to Jack’s world than meets the eye.
Jack’s pesky memories keep surfacing through his subconscious mind, consisting of confusing snippets of interactions with a nameless woman (Olga Kurylenko) he has never met before. One day Jack gears up for a routine drone check, and witnesses a spaceship crash into the Earth’s surface. The sole survivor: the same woman from his memories, who claims to be his wife. The drones are eager to blow her up, but Jack saves her and sets out on a quest for answers to his world. From there, Oblivion offers twists at every turn.
Oblivion is a stylistic and intriguing tale of humanity’s future. Joseph Kosinski dips his hand into the cookie jar of his directorial debut, Tron Legacy, borrowing a seamless juxtaposition of the sterile and the natural, weaving a technically superb futuristic atmosphere. Oblivion is more contemplative than it might have you believe; the action set-pieces that are prominent in the trailer are underwhelming in the grand scheme of things. And Oblivion considers its scheme to be very grand indeed.
There is a lot going on in Oblivion: a lot of twists, turns, and characterization. These are not bad things; in fact, I usually complain when they’re absent from a film. In this case, I applaud Oblivion’s aspirations while questioning the execution. At over two hours long, Oblivion’s scope still feels better suited for a mini-series than a single movie, packing itself to the brim with content, occasionally letting logic and explanations fall to the wayside. The problem of excessive content is apparent from the get-go, with a lengthy voiceover narration in the beginning shouldering the bulk of expository responsibility, taking several minutes just getting everyone on the same page.
Upon reflection of the plot, I’m still confused about some important aspects of Oblivion that I’m fairly certain were never answered. A second viewing may reveal that the answers I seek are tucked away in the plot somewhere. In the meantime, the ending left me with more questions than answers, asking viewers to take a big leap of narrative faith with what the filmmakers would like to have me believe is an intentionally vague (i.e. deep, thought-provoking) ending, but may merely serve to hide the fact that the writers didn’t know how to explain the end the movie.
As far as dystopian future movies go, Oblivion is good, but not a classic. It borrows too heavily and obviously from other popular sci-fi movies to stand the test of time by itself. Echoes from Planet of the Apes, Wall-E, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even An Affair to Remember are all present and accounted for. It’s as if someone stuffed all the influential sci-fi movies in a blender and pushed “puree.” I feel like I’m being harder on this movie than I was on Olympus Has Fallen, which was not my intention. Oblivion is clearly of greater stock than the filmed patriotic ode to Gerard Butler’s awesomeness. But Oblivion’s potential as a great sci-fi movie was undercut by its own ambition, telling an overloaded tale of humanity that makes you think, but doesn’t quite pass as a timeless sci-fi movie.