The first big-budget, sci-fi blowout of the year, “Oblivion” stars Tom Cruise as a survivor of a futuristic space battle that has turned Earth into an uninhabitable, post-nuclear wasteland. Now, 60 years later, he’s one of only two humans left after everyone else has been evacuated to live on a moon of Saturn.
Cruise’s character, Jack, and his female partner Vika (Andrea Riseborough) have been assigned the task of maintaining and repairing the flying robotic drones that defend massive pumping stations, which purify seawater for the space colony, from sabotaging alien scavengers.
Like everyone else post-apocalypse, Jack and Vika underwent a “mandatory memory wipe,” ostensibly to erase all traumas of yesteryear. So no one remembers anything that happened before the war — although Jack is haunted by recurring dreams of a beautiful, exotic-looking woman (former Ukrainian model, “Magic City” TV actress and “Quantum of Solace” Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) and something wonderful that happened involving the two of them atop the Empire State Building.
So imagine his surprise when a decades-old NASA space pod crashes, and out pops that same beautiful, exotic-looking woman.
Things, which were already a tad chilly between Jack and Vika, get even chillier when Jack brings the beautiful woman back to their hi-tech, hi-rise home in the clouds.
“Oblivion” is in some ways a big roll-out for writer, director and co-producer Joseph Kosinski, who previously made a sci-fi splash with his 2010 directorial debut, “Tron: Legacy,” which rebooted an ’80s classic and re-goosed one of geekdom’s most cherished movies of all time.
But up on the screen it’s a Tom Cruise vehicle all the way. He dashes around in his dandy form-fitting spacesuit, zaps his space zapper, rappels into dark holes, outruns explosions, pilots a starship, rides a futuristic motorcycle, and takes a nighttime plunge in a futuristic swimming pool with the sexy disrobed Last Woman on Earth … before another sexy woman literally falls out the sky for him, gasping his name with her first breath of fresh air.
And not to give too much away, but — as in most Cruise movies — he once again gets to be the hero, in an epic way.
“Oblivion” often seems like a big, glitzy museum of other movies that make up its DNA, including “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Alien,” Pixar’s “WALL*E,” even previous Cruise classics like “Top Gun” and “Mission: Impossible.” If someone came to see it without ever having seen many other films, it might seem a lot more original and thrilling. Instead, it feels more like a highly polished, extremely ambitious hybrid.
And too often it seems to sacrifice logic and common sense for visual grandeur. It throws a lot of great-looking, often gorgeous stuff onto the screen, but it also hurls curveballs left and right; almost no one is who, or what, they seem to be, and it gradually becomes downright confounding.
By the time Morgan Freeman appears, in a cape and sunglasses and puffing on a cigar, there are definitely more puzzles than pieces to fit neatly into them. And when Jack is startled in the desert by another character that … um, well, let’s just say I felt like I needed my own memory wipe just to start thinking clearly again.
The jam-packed storyline piles on themes and sci-fi clichés about minds, machines and memories, dreams and destiny, sky gods and earthly creatures, and robots created to serve turned into mercenaries programmed to kill. And then it pompously wraps them around an obscure, Victorian Era poem about a Roman officer and his sacrifice — and throws in an Andrew Wyeth painting, for good cultural measure.
For fans of sci-fi who like mind-bending, time-twisting yarns splayed across sprawling SFX fantasy-scapes possible only in the movies, featuring a big movie star doing all sorts of big, studly movie-star things, this time as a spaceman on a mission that’s both personal as well as planetary, this might be your kind of flick.
Everyone else, however, might just find “Oblivion” a bit too much — and a bit too out there.
IF YOU GO
STARRING: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko
DIRECTED BY: Joseph Kosinski
RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes