The Reel: ‘Oblivion’ shoots for the moon, misses


Ben Conniff

Based on an unpublished graphic novella of director Joseph Kosinski’s creation, “Oblivion” tells the story of Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a technician assigned to repair drones on a post-apocalyptic Earth. When Jack begins to recall precious memories that he was told were wiped away, he works to uncover the truth of his new world at all costs.

And his new world looks gorgeous. Shot by Academy-award-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda (“Life of Pi”), the environment of “Oblivion” is wondrous to behold. From a decimated NFL stadium to an Empire State Building with a spire now at ground level, everything looks real. Miranda’s work and that of the visual effects artists lend a magnificent sweep to Kosinski’s vision and set a high visual benchmark for this summer’s blockbusters to surpass.

The same praise can’t quite be given to the plot, however. If you took an ingredient from every sci-fi film of the last 50 years (everything from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Prometheus”, plus a surprisingly sizable dose of “Wall-E”), “Oblivion” would be what comes out of the melting pot.

The action isn’t anything special. The gunplay and spaceship chases are fun while they last, but they’re few and far between. If you’re expecting a non-stop barrage of intense sci-fi action, “Oblivion” is not your movie. That isn’t to say it’s a total snoozefest. In fact, Tom Cruise gives one of his best performances in years and effectively keeps the character drama engrossing.

As Victoria, Jack’s co-worker and companion on Earth, Andrea Riseborough more than shoulders some of the weight too, and together, she and Cruise prove to be “an effective team”.

What really threw me off was just about everything that happens after Jack meets with the rogue group of survivors led by Beech (Morgan Freeman). After Beech tasks Jack with fixing a captured drone so that he can send a bomb to the “Tet” (the ship where humans waiting to go to the outer space colony are allegedly living), Beech and his group essentially disappear. They aren’t seen again until almost the end of the movie when Jack finally returns to help them with their task, as if to say, “Oh, yeah, forgot about you guys. Well, here’s your bomb!” Additionally, Kosinski tries to take things to a philosophical level in the third act, undermining whatever riveting backstory and character drama he established over the previous hour and a half. The ending is still reasonably satisfying, but the twists left me with a headache that I didn’t expect.

In the end, “Oblivion” still looks great thanks to Kosinski’s far-reaching vision and Claudio Miranda’s stellar work as cinematographer, and it gets a boost from strong acting performances and perfectly serviceable set pieces, but the overly philosophical third act muddies the plot in an unnecessary fashion, keeping “Oblivion” from fully reaching its lofty potential.