Film review: Oblivion

EARLY on, as we swoop around Oblivion’s scorched future Earth and get our ears bent by some clumsy, chatty scene-setting, we learn that Tom Cruise’s astronaut has had his memories wiped.

Oblivion (12A)

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Running time: 126 minutes

* * *

I’m not sure how this works – is the bit that allows him to fly a spacecraft in a different department from the rest of his recent personal history? – but this state of semi-blissful ignorance is supposed to be for his own good.

A brainwash is probably also the best way to enjoy Oblivion, which feels like a mash-up of so many other, better, science-fiction movies that for the sake of plot twists, and your patience, it’s unfair to list too many here.

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The year is 2077, our moon has been split in two by an ­alien war, and Earth looks like something Charlton Heston trudged through in Planet Of The Apes, or those posters you can buy in patchouli oil shops. Mankind has fled and set up a colony on Titan, leaving behind Jack (Cruise) to wrap up and carry out those checks you do before locking the house and going on holiday.

For all the wrack and ruin on the planet’s surface, Tom’s crash pad amongst the clouds seems pretty spiffy, as if Frank Lloyd Wright had taken a commission for a treehouse. It’s made of glass, neutral woods and chrome, and has a jet parked right outside, by the swimming pool. I’m thinking the blowback when he starts up the craft must take care of the window-cleaning, but that’s the sort of over-thinking that should be discouraged if you’re going to engage with, or be surprised by, Oblivion.

Jack shares this futuristic loft apartment with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who also shares his bed, makes him coffee in the morning, mans their communication panel and reins Jack in when he bends too many rules. Despite some PG sexytime, essentially, she’s Supernanny in Louboutins.

Every day he exercises in a large hamster wheel while she does her pilates routine, a neat metaphor for the repetition of their day, which begins when the perma-chirpy Sally (Melissa Leo) hails them from out in space to check they are “still an effective team”, and consult on Jack’s tasks of retrieving and fixing the Drone robots that patrol Earth, defending it from attacks from the Scavengers.

Several things threaten Jack’s routine. The Scavs are one, a resistant bunch of aliens who lurk in the remains of the New York Public Library, get their lagged-pipe clothes at the same depot that supplied Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and appear to include Morgan Freeman in their club. Jack is also plagued by dreams of a beautiful woman at the top of the Empire State Building, and when a spaceship crashes on to the planet, the sole survivor (Olga Kurylenko) looks just like her, but when questioned, refuses to cough up an answer.

Oblivion is directed and co-written by Joseph Kosinski. It isn’t nearly as bad as his last film, Tron Legacy, but his storytelling is still a slog compared with his eye for a CGI dogfight. The characters badly need some flesh on their bones, and while Cruise can fall back on brand awareness and some Top Gun cockiness, Riseborough and Kurylenko don’t have that luxury. For all its dystopian sweep and moody posturing, Oblivion is too underpowered and underwritten to linger for long in the memory.

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot