Tom Cruise tackles space invaders in Oblivion, a half decent science fiction film constructed from stitched together parts of older and better science fiction films – a Frankenstein’s Monster of a sci-fi film, if you like. While being a perfectly respectable attempt at forging a story that attempts to engage the brain as well as dazzle the eyes, there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before. In fact there’s some fun to be had in identifying its various constituent parts; there are bits and pieces pinched from the likes of Silent Running, WALL-E, The Matrix, RoboCop, Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, I Am Legend, and quite a few others. That wouldn’t be so bad if writer-director Joseph Kosinski had moulded them into something different or added to them with a few new ideas, but no such luck.
That said, it’s refreshing to see a genre piece that has enough confidence to take the time to establish an atmosphere and tone – a throwback to the days when science fiction could still be serious. The terrific production design goes some way to giving it an identity of its own, and there are several arresting images, not least of which is that of a disintegrated moon, its remnants still mournfully orbiting the Earth as though it hadn’t quite realised it had been blown apart.
Oblivion also represents the closest melding of film with the computer game and graphic novel we’ve seen yet. Based on a comic book that was never published, it almost feels like it might have existed in any or all of those media, and which format you chose hardly mattered. Perhaps this is the most interesting aspect of the film, pointing to a growing trend of technological convergence.
The cast are all solid enough, with Andrea Riseborough the standout among the supporting players. As reliable as he is, the casting of Cruise only hampers the attempt to inject real drama in to the story, because his screen persona is by now one of invulnerability and Oblivion does little to examine or subvert that. It’s a little slow in parts, but otherwise worth a trip to see on the big screen.