In terms of blockbuster source material, “based on an unpublished graphic novel” may not send pulses racing, but it at least offers the allure of the unknown. After all, how many directors other than Christopher Nolan have recently convinced a studio to pony up nine figures on a sci-fi epic that wasn't already a proven commodity? Joseph Kosinski—whose TRON: Legacy
failed to make much of a commercial or critical impression—somehow convinced Universal execs to loosen their purse strings and make his unpublished comic a rendered-in-IMAX reality. And while his sophomore feature capably demonstrates his knack for envisioning and realizing alternate realms, it also confirms that he remains incapable of cobbling together a compelling story. Oblivion
kicks off in much the same fashion as Legacy
: with onerous exposition. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) informs us it’s 2077, some 60 years after Earth was decimated during an alien invasion. Jack now resides with his “assigned” wife, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), in a gleaming penthouse towering over an expansive wasteland. His initial objective is simply to do his job: harvest Earth’s remaining water for an off-planet colony. However, a throwaway line about “mandatory memory wipes” is destined to boomerang back and complicate matters. Alas, we practically have to wait until the 22nd century for the other shoe to drop and Julia (Olga Kurylenko) to crash from the heavens, claiming to be Jack’s real wife. In the interim, we're left to marvel at the immaculate post-apocalyptic vistas and to lament Cruise's continued devolution into an action-movie automaton. Forsaking its languid pace in its second hour, Oblivion
piles on dodgy plot developments and largely unsurprising “revelations.” The film is too somber to cater in escapist thrills and too vacuous to offer emotional or intellectual engagement. While an impressive showcase of post-apocalyptic aesthetics, it proves utterly lifeless.