I wouldn’t go quite as far as the heckler at the Brixton Ritzy – “Shit!” was his pithy summary as the closing credits rolled, to a ripple of laughter that sounded very much like agreement – but to give Oblivion three stars out of five would feel generous.
How can a $120 million sci-fi mind-bender starring Tom Cruise and set on a post-apocalyptic Earth contrive to be such a crashing bore? The set-up is intriguing: the Moon has been blown up by alien “Scavs”, producing catastrophic earthquakes and tidal waves, so that most of New York is silted up. Only the tip of the Empire State Building pokes up through the soil.
From their minimalist white platform above the clouds (an ivory tower, see?), dashing Tom Cruise and his English rose Andrea Riseborough collaborate on the clean-up of wasteland Earth, like Mr and Mrs Wall-E, while the rest of humanity have fled to one of Saturn’s moons. He dashes about in a nifty space-ship-cum-copter thingy fighting off the last remaining Scavs, while she stays at home managing the communications. (Evidently sexual politics will not have progressed much by the end of the 21st century.) But as their memories were wiped clean five years previously, not all is as it seems… to say more would spoil some of the more enjoyable surprises in the film.
For there is an original idea or two struggling to emerge from this good-looking but derivative hotch-potch of sci-fi classics. Sadly they never quite make it. Even at just two hours the film feels wildly overlong. If it’s aiming for Solaris-style philosophical heft, Cruise’s limited range puts paid to that – he only has his Cheeky Action Face, his Cheeky Sexy Face, and his furrowed-brow I Worry After Rock Of Ages And Jack Reacher That If This Film Tanks Too I’m Finished face. And Morgan Freeman is criminally wasted in a hackneyed and underwritten role.
At least the makers of Oblivion got one thing right: the title. It’s what this movie seems destined for…