Oblivion is a sci-fi drama from director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) based on his own graphic novel. I’m not sure if the significant problems with this movie stem from the fact that the novel is light on narrative, or if Kosinski, like many sci-fi directors, fell into the all-too-frequent trap of reveling in the imagined world he has created instead of using that environment to tell a story. Either way, Oblivion is not a successful film and at best can be described as an interesting failure.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future in which humans have destroyed the Earth during a war with alien invaders called Scavs, the movie plays like a throwback to sci-fi films of the 1970s, which were also often visually indulgent at the expense of plot.  Tom Cruise (in a role that could easily have been played by Charlton Heston in the ‘70s) plays a technician who lives above the clouds in an immaculately clean, sparse, space-age apartment with a beautiful but thoroughly uninteresting coworker / lover. This setting also harkens back to the 1970s, when visions of futuristic homes reflected 1950’s ideals of domestic bliss. Cruise kisses his little woman good-bye every morning and then flies off to work like George Jetson. His work is repairing drones that have been damaged by the remnants of a Scav army that is still fighting the war.

Thirty minutes into the movie, Cruise’s routine is interrupted by a spaceship crash. The sole survivor is a beautiful girl he recognizes from his own vague memories. Prior to this turn of events, we must weather a first act that is visually impressive (as least as far as generic digital special effects go) but devoid of substance. Oblivion gets slightly more interesting after the turn into the second act but overall it still feels like a derivative bag of sci-fi clichés and conventions. The main problem is that there are no characters in the movie other than Cruise--and he is playing more of an attitude than an actual person. It is no surprise that neither female lead is played by a star, as I can’t imagine any major actress wanting to take either underwritten role.  Morgan Freeman also shows up fairly late in the proceedings, playing… well... Morgan Freeman.

The ambition of Oblivion is admirable and, even though it is unnecessarily long, it is never actually boring or unpleasant to sit through. However, the faulty narrative logic, lack of engaging characters and utter unoriginality of every single aspect of the picture will make you wish you were watching a possibly more boring, but ultimately more satisfying, sci-fi B-movie from the 1970s.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Produced by Peter Chernin, Joseph Kosinski, Dylan Clark, Duncan Henderson, and Barry Levine

Screenplay by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt
Based on the graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson

With: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, and Zoe Bell

Cinematography: Claudio Miranda
Editing: Richard Francis-Bruce
Music: Anthony Gonzalez, M.8.3, and Joseph Trapanese

Runtime: 124 min
Release Date: 19 April 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1