It’s not easy for Tom Cruise to play ordinary. An actor with a hero complex, his last film, Jack Reacher, saw him as an almost indestructible ex-military cop. Before that, he was a six-pack sporting rock star in Rock of Ages. But in his new film, Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi Oblivion, he’s just plain old blue-collar repairman Jack Harper. Set in 2073, he’s one of the last humans left on Earth after a war with an alien nation known as Scavs has left the planet devastated.
Alongside his colleague Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), his job is to travel the Earth’s surface, fixing the gun-toting robotic drones that are in place to fight off the Scavs. With the bulk of the human race now living off-planet, Jack and Victoria have just two weeks before their mop-up mission is complete and the pair can leave Earth. But Jack isn’t ready to go, judging by his secret pastoral hideaway – unknown to Victoria – where he thumbs through old vinyl LPs and listens to Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On.
With that megawatt smile, Cruise finds it impossible to damp down his heroic, cocksure persona – despite the writer and director Joseph Kosinski, who took the story from a graphic novel he produced, attempting to introduce an element of romantic poignancy to his character. This comes with the arrival of the mysterious Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a survivor Jack rescues from a crash site. Julia, it transpires, has links to his past.
The most impressive elements of Oblivion are design-led. Anyone who saw Kosinski’s 2010 debut TRON: Legacy will know what a flair this former architecture student has for creating jaw-dropping landscapes and Oblivion, which was shot in Iceland, is no different. Factor in the pulsating electronic score by M83 (even if it doesn’t quite touch the magisterial music created by Daft Punk for TRON: Legacy) and this is a film high on atmospherics.
Kosinski clearly loves his sci-fi. Nods are made to Planet of the Apes, with various US landmarks half-buried, though these pale next to the more original shot of two supertankers lying on their side on what once was the ocean bed.
But the problem is just how hollow it all feels. The performances, notably by the British actress Andrea Riseborough, are disengaged. Even the arrival of Morgan Freeman – wearing unbelievably silly sunglasses in an attempt to look prophetic – can’t lift it into orbit.