Oblivion is the Frankenstein of science-fiction movies.
Stitched together from spare bits of other, often better films 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mad Max, Silent Running, WALL-E, Moon, Solaris, Total Recall, The Matrix and Prometheus, just to name a few it stumbles awkwardly in story and plot, shuffling toward the predictable explosions and fireballs of the third act. Yet, despite all that, Oblivion is surprisingly well-acted and so beautiful to look at that what at first seems like a cinematic monster is actually a handsomely compelling creation.
Thats a little hard to believe considering that director/co-writer Joseph Kosinskis only previous feature is the dreadful TRON: Legacy, or that star Tom Cruise, whos in virtually every scene, is at his Cruise-iest here running, jumping, flexing, showering, inspiring envy from every other 50-year-old man on the planet. But somehow Oblivion transcends what could have been fatal flaws.
In the near future, Earth has been nearly destroyed by a battle with mineral-hungry aliens called scavs (short for scavengers). The humans won, but the planet is toast, so most of whats left of humanity has been transported to a terraformed Titan, one of Saturns moons.
Jack (Cruise), Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, Disconnect) and a small army of flying drones are left behind as a cleanup crew, hunting down any remaining scavs and generally keeping an eye on things. Everything is hunky-dory Victoria is excitedly counting the days until they, too, can move to Titan until Cruise stumbles across a group of ragtag humans living underground, led by the wise and able Beech (Morgan Freeman). They upend Jacks perfect world, telling him that the official history he has been told all this time is a lie.
If the subsequent twists and turns verge on the ridiculous, viewers can take refuge in the films epic scope. Shot in Iceland with cinematography by Claudio Miranda (who won an Oscar for Life of Pi), Oblivion paints a world of gorgeous desolation. The pulsing yet soaring electronic score by French indie-dance act M83 and composer Joseph Trapanese adds to the sense of breathtaking sweep.
Kosinski, working from a script based on a graphic novel he co-authored, manages the near-impossible: He humanizes Cruise over the course of the 126-minute running time. But its Riseborough, playing a woman in love with Jack who also feels him slipping away, who gives the sleek Oblivion a sense of soul.
On the down side, Freeman, Olga Kurylenko as a Jack love interest and especially Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (so great in 2011s Headhunters) as Beechs right-hand man are criminally underused.
By the end, audiences may grow weary of things going boom. But theres one final twist that brings things back to Earth, literally. This Frankenstein may not have as many brains as Kosinski might imagine, but it definitely has a heart.