Tom Cruise's latest sci-fi outing is visually splendid but features overfamiliar plotting
His first sci-fi since Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, there is a queasy sense of familiarity with Tom Cruise’s new film, Oblivion. It hardly helps that his character, a cocky blue-collar repairman, is named Jack Harper – which sounds uncannily like his last action hero, Jack Reacher.
Set on a desolate Earth in the future, an opening voiceover bombards us with backstory: after a war with alien creatures called Scavs, the bulk of the population are now living off-planet; Jack and his colleague/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are a mop-up team, set to join the rest of us in two weeks.
When Jack isn’t reminiscing about old baseball games or secretly listening to Led Zeppelin on vinyl, his job is to skim the surface of the planet repairing drones that do battle with the animal-like Scavs. While Riseborough controls the missions, they make for an 'effective team' – at least until Jack encounters the mysterious crash-survivor Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who brings more questions than answers.
Visually the film is splendid – notably the sight of two super-tankers lying on their side of a dried ocean bed. The writer-director is former architecture student Joseph Kosinski, the man behind 2010’s Tron: Legacy. As he again proves, his ability to design worlds is intoxicating; likewise, his use of electronic music adds further texture – this time with M83 providing the score after Daft Punk’s majestic contribution to Tron: Legacy.
That said, the creeping sense of over-familiarity comes not just from Cruise but the derivative nods to other sci-fi, from Planet of the Apes to The Matrix (thanks to Morgan Freeman in silly sunglasses). Too often, the muddled, twist-conscious plot feels lifeless, whilst the performances, notably Riseborough, rarely engage. Oblivion may impress with its scale. But rather like Kosinski’s depiction of Earth, it feels devoid of humanity – and that’s a major design flaw.