I don’t have anything against Tom Cruise.
Cruise could believe in a giant squid in the sky for all I care. The actor/producer has consistently put more care on his films than other stars of his caliber. Even his lesser efforts (Jack Reacher, Knight and Day) are, at least, frothy fun.
Lately, Cruise has attempted to move past the comfort of the Mission: Impossible saga. Oblivion fits in this effort, as he puts his clout at the service of a relative newcomer.
Oblivion is a visually stunning collage of better sci-fi films writer/director Joseph Kosinski hopes you haven’t seen. Following a nuclear war against a highly developed alien race, Earth has become a wasteland (also, the moon has been crushed). Most of mankind has relocated to Saturn, except for a few drone repairmen keeping pumps siphoning the planet’s last supplies.
Cruise is Jack Harper, one of the mechanics. Even though Harper had his memory wiped out in order to prevent aliens from accessing his mind in case of capture, the technician reminisces of a time he couldn’t possibly have lived. The crash landing of a NASA spaceship seems to indicate the official story is completely unreliable and Harper must reassess his position in the world.
Let me list the movies Joseph Kosinski borrows freely to build Oblivion: WALL-E (the lonely repairman), 2001 (the cold efficiency of machines), Alien (priorities), Independence Day (alien invasion, massive destruction variety), Battlestar Galactica (virtual truths), and Moon (the entire plot). Kosinski -who previously directed the equally vacuous Tron: Legacy– has talent, but needs to look for better material.
Tom Cruise tones down his trademark cockiness and almost becomes an everyman (can’t fully be one when you look like that at 50). It’s not a particularly challenging role, but Cruise makes it work and carries the movie when the plot fails to do so.
Oblivion another saving grace is the look. From the spaceships to the planet flattened by nukes, the cinematography by Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi) is a wonder. You may not care about the story, but the landscapes will keep you enthralled. Three prairie cockroaches.