Oblivion

Tom Cruise in Oblivion

Earth is a garbage dump. Alien wars have left the future in ruins. The remnants of humanity have taken refuge on a space station. A pair of unlikely lovers are assigned from on high to do the robotic work of reclaiming vital resources and maybe saving the planet.

OK, that's the plot of Pixar's WALL-E. Minus the animation, it's also the motor that drives Oblivion, a fantasy without an original thought in its sleek, empty head. Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) knows from sleek. If looks were everything, Oblivion – gorgeously shot by Life of Pi Oscar winner Claudio Miranda – would be the sci-fi Citizen Kane. It's not. With a script Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn adapted from Kosinski's graphic novel, Oblivion is a scavenger, feeding off better material.

Get ready to play "Name That Reference." Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper, the fighter pilot (Top Gun) charged with eliminating any leftover aliens and protecting the drones at work on a hydroelectric energy plant. He's the Chosen One (The Matrix). There are hints of mind-tampering (Total Recall) as Jack and Vika (Andrea Riseborough), his British partner and bedmate, take orders from a computer named Sally, a magnolia-voiced Melissa Leo (think HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Vika stays in the glass bubble she and Jack use as home base. Is Vika real (Blade Runner)? She does get jealous when Jack discovers Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a beauty who reminds him of his past (Inception) when the Empire State Building still stood (Planet of the Apes). It takes a roving band of humans (The Matrix Reloaded), led by Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, to spark a climactic battle that has Jack seeing double (Avatar). For all the bells and whistles – an electronic score by M83, a screen-busting Imax presentation and Cruise going full throttle – Oblivion feels arid and antiseptic, untouched by human hands. Bummer.

From The Archives Issue 1182: May 9, 2013