Oblivion may feel familiar to sci fi fans used to and probably expecting a stimulating film with big ideas and great visuals. You get only half of that package here and it doesn’t involve using your head. But what it lacks for in originality Oblivion more than makes up for in intrigue and atmosphere.

The setting is Earth in the future, 2077 to be precise. An uninhabited wasteland, it fell victim to a prolonged battle between humans and an attacking alien race sixty years ago. Humans, we learn via the smooth voiceover of Tom Cruise’s generic sounding Jack Harper (there is a reason for this, we later find out) have packed up and moved to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Jack, along with workmate and frequent lover Victoria, is tasked with ensuring the drones that keep watch over Earth’s remaining resources, such as the sea water which is being extracted, are kept functioning. As a repairman, he heads out on daily runs whenever there is a drone that needs to be fixed and brought back into active operation, and on one such excursion encounters a crashed spacecraft with one human survivor, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), woman from his past.

Part of what makes Oblivion so good is the build up to the point where Julia is introduced. Jack has dreams of Earth before it was decimated which he claims are not from his memory because he never saw the planet this way but instead from pictures he’s seen. But we learn that as part of being assigned to the mission on Earth, both him and Victoria had to undergo mandatory memory wipe as a security measure and so we’re never sure, till the truth is revealed, how much of what Jack really knows as fact is what it is. Like both Matrix before it and perhaps more recently, the very competent Moon, Jack’s questioning of his very own existence and identity are modern constructs of the genre. In fact, director Joseph Kosinski, who made his debut with the impressive looking but dull Tron: Legacy, seems on the verge of creating his own trademark with his fixation on sleek futuristic vehicles, sterile attire, ambient electronica musical scores and sparse, largely empty landscape. Truth be told, Oblivion is such a triumph of visuals over storytelling that it sometimes works against the film, taking the focus away from a capable if largely familiar script.

After last year’s excruciating exercise in set decoration excess that was Prometheus, Oblivion feels more grounded and balanced, but despite its best efforts, loses points for its lack of any real novelty. It’s ultra seriousness masks a desire to be considered important, perhaps even epic, and though it’s none of those things when compared to the best that the genre has to offer, it is at least earnest which should be reason enough to watch it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com