“Oblivion,” a sci-fi thriller starring Tom Cruise in yet another action-hero role, gets four stars for art direction.
It's visually stunning, featuring a sleek, antiseptic home in the sky, a super-cool futuristic motorcycle and planes, sexy and attractive costumes for its main characters, and all kinds of amazing landscapes from Iceland, where it was shot.
Cruise is still looking good, too, at age 51, as he proves in shower and bedroom scenes that show off his rippling muscles.
I'm focusing on looks first because it's the only thing I'm absolutely sure about after watching “Oblivion.”
I think I understand the story. Sort of.
In the year 2077, Earth has been devastated by a nuclear war after being attacked decades earlier by alien scavengers (Scavs) seeking to plunder the planet's natural resources. Jack (Cruise), narrating the opening, tells us that mankind won the war, but the planet is uninhabitable. Survivors have been moved to Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
Jack says he's part of a mop-up crew, keeping drones up and running to protect large desalination plants that are sending water to Saturn. Scav insurgents are still a threat, Jack says.
Jack's memory was wiped out five years ago. He has a content life with domestic and work partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). She's urging Jack to stay out of trouble, counting down to two weeks from now when they get to rejoin friends on Titan. They get their marching orders on a video screen from Sally (Melissa Leo), a smarmy woman with an edge.
But Jack has strange dreams and flashbacks about a girl (Olga Kurylenko) in New York City before it was devastated. (You'll enjoy seeing the remaining fragments of landmarks like the Empire State Building and the New York Public Library.)
Then Jack comes across an underground bunch of humans where no humans are supposed to exist, led by Beech (Morgan Freeman). They want Jack's help to save the human race, but it requires a leap of faith.
Or something like that. I got a little lost in this world of clones and drones and techno-jargon that almost needs subtitles at times.
Cruise, who is in almost every scene, gives the movie its chills and thrills. Riseborough provides a much-needed dose of heart, even if that heart won't cross certain lines. Leo's voice is quite suitable as the disembodied taskmaster. Freeman and Kurylenko, plus Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Freeman's right-hand man, play underwritten parts, and you wish there were more there.
Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron Legacy”) has created another visual dazzler with at least a little more soul than his first effort. But it's not enough to make this a story audiences will fully invest in emotionally. It won't satisfy fanboys who feed off tons of violence, either.
Perhaps Kosinski and co-screenwriter Karl Gajdusek could have drawn some extra resonance from current world headlines. As it is, they seem to have borrowed bits and pieces from better movies like “WALL-E,” “Solaris,” “Star Wars,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and others.
But the cinematography by Oscar winner Claudio Miranda (“Life of Pi”) is breathtaking, and the story has enough surprise turns to keep you curious, if not fully engaged. “Oblivion” gets a thumbs-up as a passable diversion — not bad, not great either — though what's likely to hang with you are the visuals, not the graphic-novel story.
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