The audience for Universal’s science-fiction blockbuster, “Oblivion,” is small and easy to define.
If you have never seen a single classic of the sci-fi genre, then you might enjoy it.
If, however, you are even a casual sci-fi fan, you will recognize “Oblivion” for what it is: a mishmash of standard tropes and plot devices from better movies.
The opening premise is laughably similar to a live-action “WALL-E,” which owed a great deal to “Silent Running” (1972) to begin with.
Married couple Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the only two humans still living on Earth after a war with aliens decimated the planet. The rest of humanity lives either on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, or on a triangular spaceship called the Tet that orbits the planet.
Enormous hydro plants suck up Earth’s ocean water and convert it into energy that fuels the Tet. Once the ship has enough stored energy, Jack and Victoria will join the others on the Tet and go live on Titan.
Jack works away each day, fixing drones and collecting objects he stores in a hidden little shack. He especially loves plants. Sound like a lovable little robot you might have heard about?
I’m not the first person to connect this movie to the Pixar film, by the way. The Internet has already called out “Oblivion” on this count. A couple of hilarious viral videos demonstrate how similar the movie’s concept is to “WALL-E” by mashing together the audio and video from the two films’ trailers.
The connections become laugh out loud funny when Jack finds a small flower still growing and presents it to Victoria as a gift. A firm believer in doing everything by the book, Victoria promptly destroys the plant. She doesn’t immediately shut down like WALL-E’s love interest, Eve, but you get the point.
The movie also borrows heavily from “Moon,” “Bladerunner,” “The Matrix,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and many others. Sci-fi fans might enjoy spotting all of the film’s references, but that is likely where their enjoyment will end.
Genre fans are more likely to rip it to shreds, especially if they have paid $10 per ticket. I heard people in the screening audience chuckling at moments definitely not intended to be funny. It begins to seem as if every cliché device used in the history of science fiction appears in this one movie.
Worse than being derivative, though, “Oblivion” offers two utterly implausible premises.
Two major twists eventually reveal Jack has been grossly mislead about the nature of the war and his own existence. The third act gives us the true story just before it races to the climax.
Problem is, the real story is even more absurd than the original premise.
The visuals are excellent, and the studio clearly invested a great deal in the production values. Yet for all of the mammoth amounts of work put into it, the movie makes no impact at all.
The performances are solid, but the only actor to really stand out is Riseborough. Victoria is the most human and sympathetic character, and Riseborough gets to show off the most range.
I left the movie wondering whether Cruise is losing his appeal in action movies. I am not in the camp that mocks Cruise for his (admittedly troubling) off-screen exploits. He can worship whatever crazy religion he wants and jump on couches all over afternoon television for all I care, because he is one of the most consistent actors we have.
His range is hugely underrated, too. Just see “Rock of Ages” (yes, I will defend him in that movie), “Tropic Thunder,” “Magnolia” and “A Few Good Men” for proof of his legitimacy as an actor.
However, he chooses forgettable action movies and usually fails to open them to big box office numbers. At the ripe age of 51, it might be time to hang up his laser gun. He definitely should have passed on this project.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.