When the trailer for Tom Cruise's latest flick, Oblivion, came out there was a lot of snarky about how it looked like a mash-up of WALL-E and The Matrix (with Morgan Freeman in the Morpheus role) and having seen it I can only wish it had managed to make the sum equal to a fraction of the parts of those films.
Set in 2077, the Earth had been devastated by an alien invasion that started with the shattering of the Moon and the decimation of the planet by earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear weapons. (More on this later.) With the Earth trashed, the remains of the human race have relocated to Titan, a moon of Saturn because the much closer and relatively warmer Mars would've made too much sense or something. Cruise plays Jack (not because he just played Jack Reacher and couldn't learn to answer to another name or anything), a drone repair tech who fixes the armed flying death spheres that protect giant pyramids sucking the oceans up and converting them to fusion fuel to propel the exodus of the final crews to Titan from an orbiting four-sided die called the Tet (short for tetrahedron).
His base of operations is Tower 49, a slick, icy-cold, sterile tri-level structure perched thousands of feet up above the clouds, looking like an Apple store in 2001. Keeping him company in his work (and bed, it appears) is Andrea Riseborough (me neither), who sorta looks like what Tilda Swinton would look like if she was a woman and not from David Bowie's homeworld and makes me think they couldn't get Emily Blunt or Jessica Chastain for the part. She monitor's operations from their base and skinny dips in their clear swimming pool (as in you can see into it from the outside) that runs the width of the station on their "front porch" with the walkway to the glass bubble-crossed-with-dragonfly jetcopter that Jack uses to...wait, what the what?!? A SWIMMING POOL?!?!
Most of the reviews for Oblivion have singled out its design sense for praise while damning the derivative and mundane story, but while the gleaming white metal and glass construct of everything is spiffy, it doesn't jibe with what a real operations base would need. Then again, it's not surprising when you consider that the director is Joseph Kosinski who helmed the also-slick but empty TRON Legacy. (The engine exhausts are like the updated Recognizers.) There's a weird disconnect between the ruined Earth and this shining spire and their supposedly urgent mission.
Also, I've had to here with the ridiculous alterations to the landscape that this movie and shows like Defiance portray where the surface is radically transformed in impossible, but picturesque ways. As the trailer shows at 0:34 of the trailer, the Washington Monument is only slightly askew and the Capitol done is visible, but a major setting is the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building which is at ground level because supposedly 1000 feet of dirt have buried it, making the landscape look like Iceland, the current hot exotic location as its use for Prometheus and Game of Thrones shows. As with everything else, making it look cool is more important than having it make sense.
Oh yeah, I never finished recapping the story, did I? That's OK, neither did the screenwriters (working from a pitch for a graphic novel by Kosinski) and as the trailer shows, it's all nonsense about secrets and dreams and mysterious women who fall from the sky and blah-blah-woof-woof. When a movie opens with a mention that their memories had been wiped because just because that's a huge warning flag because it makes no sense; it's like having a pool in your space tower. To Oblivion's tiny credit, the explanation of what's really happening isn't what most people will guess, though when that reveal starts to hint itself, you'll leap a few minutes ahead of the storytelling. The ending and the coda are also ridiculous.
Cruise and Riseborough are fine with what they're given as is former Bond hottie Olga Kurylenko as the Woman Jack Dreams About Who You Will Not Be In The Least Bit Surprised When It's Revealed She's His Wife From Before The Apocalypse. (Whoops! Spoiler alert!) Freeman has so little to do but add useless gravitas to the Morpheus role and the guy who plays Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones has the thankless sidekick-who-doesn't-like-our-hero part. Zoe Bell is listed in the credits but I never spotted her and have no idea who that character was, not that it matters.
For some reason some people think that Kosinski is some sort of visionary director on the rise but based on TRON Legacy and Oblivion, those people are sadly mistaken. (One clown on io9.com in particular thinks he should do the next Star Trek movie. No, Bub.) A few slick sets don't substitute for solid stories well told and he's whiffed both times. I didn't get much sleep the night before, but I was dozing off at 1:30 in the afternoon while watching this and "It kept me awake" is the pass-fail for my girlfriend when she watches something. Just saying.
Normally I'd be giving this a catch it on cable recommendation, but for the luscious visuals and the super-cool sound effects for the killer drones when they're in hunting mode. If you've got a good sound system for your home theater, rent the Blu-ray; otherwise wait for cable.
Score: 4/10. Rent the Blu-ray.