Oblivion | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


Joseph Kosinski's flick is a patchwork of earlier sci-fi classics, plus one 1950s romance

Me and my drone: Jack (Tom Cruise) is the last man on Earth.
Me and my drone: Jack (Tom Cruise) is the last man on Earth.

Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Starting in 2017, aliens attacked, nukes were set off, and somebody blew up the moon. By 2077, there are only two people left, coordinating the last bit of resource extraction before joining the rest of humanity near Saturn in just two weeks' time. But as Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion recounts, this fortnight will be as tumultuous as any cop's proverbial last day on the force.

Jack (Tom Cruise, in silver leather) manages drones for mankind's temporary HQ, a floating giant pyramid called the Tet. The drones are equipped with super-duper visual-analysis screens, and hunt down the remaining troublesome aliens known as "Scavs." The Tet, despite the high-tech ability to freefloat in space, can barely communicate via the scrambled-video visage of Sally (head of Melissa Leo). 

Jack's partner, Julia (Andrea Riseborough), runs communication from the couple's faaabulous mid-century-modern-ish dream home (with floating infinity pool!). But bad news, ladies: Even if you're literally the last woman on Earth, you gotta report to your desk job in a skin-tight dress and spike heels. 

Jack and Julia have had their memories wiped, which they seem cool with — 2066 sucked, after all — but Jack keeps getting weird flashbacks to pre-apocalyptic times: He's a Yankees fan at the Empire State Building canoodling with a pretty girl (Olga Kurylenko). 

Imagine his surprise when the Scavs shoot down a rocket module, and there in delta sleep is the very same girl! Oh, and the Scavs take him hostage, and Julia gets prickly, and Jack starts to ask questions about his job that you know are gonna lead to problematic, if wholly predictable, answers.

Oblivion is mildly entertaining, and looks good with sharp digital effects and weirdo landscapes. (Thanks, Iceland!) It's good enough for popcorn, but not enough to overcome the flat acting and weak plot. Or more correctly, plots — since Oblivion is a blatant pastiche of ideas, tropes and set pieces from other films including Star Wars, Terminator, Moon, The Matrix, 2001, WALL*E, Planet of the Apes, even the 1957 soaper An Affair to Remember! 

For all the nifty visuals, too much of the tale, and what it means, is simply told to us (at times, by special guest star and noted explainer Morgan Freeman). Sci-fi is often about the tension between human and not-human, and hoping us soulful types triumph. But when any of Oblivion's characters start spouting nonsense about love or dreams, you'll be looking for the nearest killer robot. 

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