Joseph Kosinski’s second movie, “Oblivion,” is a lot like his first, “Tron: Legacy.” Both are gorgeous-looking, futuristic sci-fi tales that benefit from amazing computer-generated imagery and a few nifty action beats, but suffer from a lack of human connection.
In “Oblivion,” the year is 2077, and while most of the human population has migrated to temporary quarters on one of Saturn’s moons, a few workers remain on the now-uninhabitable Earth to monitor the machines that are converting seawater to freshwater in the hopes of making it habitable again. These technicians include adventurous Jack (Tom Cruise) and businesslike Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), specialists whose memories were wiped clean at the start of the mission to enable them to focus on the lonely work at hand. In two weeks, they’ll be done, and they’ll join their fellow Earthlings on the colony. (It is nearly always a bad omen when a movie character has “two weeks till retirement.”)
Aside from each other, their only human contact is with their chirpy, efficient boss, Sally (Melissa Leo), who communicates via telescreen from headquarters. Then a long-forgotten space capsule returns from orbit, and with it a woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko). She feels familiar to Jack. But he couldn’t remember her, could he? His memory was wiped. What’s up with that?
Kosinski, who conceived the screenplay and shares credit for it with Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, excels at manufacturing awesome things to look at: rubble of what used to be New York City, deserts and craters, vast expanses of sea and sky. In IMAX, especially, the picture is crystal-clear and spectacular, and the sound design appropriately rumbly. But the story is a pedestrian accumulation of plot devices from other sci-fi films, with no new innovations or twists. I tend to think that the more sci-fi you’ve seen, the less you’ll be intrigued by what “Oblivion” is up to.
Cruise is magnetic — there’s a reason he’s been a movie star for 30 years — but in this case, that’s not the same thing as being interesting. He can be coldly inscrutable, and Kosinski’s sterile style brings out those tendencies. The emotional pull that Kosinski wants us to feel just isn’t there. Even the presence of Morgan Freeman as an off-the-grid survivor can’t warm the movie up to anything better than lukewarm.
C+ (2 hrs., 4 min.; )