Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to “TRON: Legacy” is a sleek, glassy repository of curated design, as much a lexicon of coolly appreciated influence as a functional motion picture in its own right. “Oblivion” took its first creative breath as an unpublished graphic novel by Kosinski, who shares story and writing credit here, and it has the kind of magpie fecundity you’d hope to find bursting from the pages of une bande dessinée freshly re-inked into English. But as a movie, it’s like a data mind-meld, a terabyte farm of all the films Kosinski has ever steeped in, a reduction to one singularity, an uberfilm that displaces all that it came from. But sad for the film’s fortunes, “Oblivion” requires story and actors, and it has Tom Cruise at his most Cruise-ey. A “Blade Runner”-like voiceover not-so-quickly sets the scene: it’s the year 2077, and “we won the war but we lost the planet.” Cruise, or “Jack,” as he’s preferred to be called in his most recent movies, including “Jack Reacher,” is an engineer teamed with a colleague-cum-lover Victoria (the ever-fascinating Andrea Riseborough) in a fantastic past-futurist retro-pad in the clouds to supervise and dispatch drones that protect hydrogen fusion plants floating above ruined Earth’s seas. He’s a post-apocalyptic first responder. Iceland neatly stands in for a grown-over, silt-strewn planet, “Oblivion”‘s landscape to equal the deserts of “Lawrence of Arabia.” (The drones are as cleanly designed as any element, and as derivative: think “Wall-E”‘s Eve with weaponry for bosoms.) Jack’s obsessed with a dream of a beautiful woman, Julia, in pre-war Manhattan (Olga Kurylenko) despite having had memories erased in case any enemy were to capture him. A science-fiction adept would surely draw the names of many an ur-text with a stick in the dust, but even an average consumer of the past few decades of movies would also have a cornucopia of titles racketing around the brainpan even as the eyeballs are gently and pleasingly tickled. These are but a few of the horizons scaled in plain sight: “2001: A Space Odyssey”; “Total Recall”; “Omega Man”; “Silent Running”; “La Jetée”; “Last Man On Earth”; “The Matrix”; “Star Wars”; “The Prestige”; “Vertigo”; “Alien”; “Gattaca” (dig that coiled DNA staircase); Richard Stanley’s “Hardware”; “The Time Machine”; “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”; “Planet of the Apes” (1968); Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of the Moon” and the fucked godhead that is John Boorman’s “Zardoz.” Plus: Tom Cruise runs! And runs! But he cannot run from fate. He cannot run from his destiny. He cannot run from the script. Forget it, Jack: it’s Chernobyl town. Mies van der Rohe might have been pleased by his many homages. Or is that Frank Lloyd Wright, who would sue? The cloned horizontal design elements are a treat, nonetheless. The score by M83 isn’t the equal of Daft Punk’s for “TRON: Legacy” and composer Anthony Gonzalez has registered his complaints about the softening of his sound. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda won an Oscar for “Life of Pi” since shooting “TRON: Legacy” for Kosinski. With Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. 125m. (Ray Pride)
“Oblivion” is orbiting now. It’s BIG in IMAX. And it’s not in 3D.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.