In Oblivion, the latest from Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski, Tom Cruise is Commander Jack Harper, prancing around post-apocalyptic Earth in a white outer-space flyboy jumper. He behaves like a waxworks simulation of “Tom Cruise,” and in this regard the movie is much like last year’s Jack Reacher, in which Cruise played an inadvertent parody of himself. Now, the 50-year-old Xenu-fighter (“Jack Thetan”?) flies a bubble-pod version of the Star Wars X-Wing Fighter and fixing sentry drones.
Aliens invaded Earth, you see, and the earthlings beat them back with drone-delivered nukes. But sometimes they come back, or something. When the anti-alien drones inexplicably attack human survivors of a crash landing (including Olga Kurylenko, who seems to haunt Harper’s memories), the Cruise control starts to falter. All is not what it seems! (Use your heat vision, Jack!)
Oblivion is an empty vessel, impossible to watch without picking out all the other films whose prominent ideas and motifs are dropped in like decorative marbles. Hey, look, it’s Blade Runner! And there’s 2001! Oh, wow, really? The Matrix? And sure, why not La Jetée and Solaris? (A lesser-known but key ingredient: Duncan Jones’ Moon.) A sympathetic reading of Oblivion would regard it as an exemplary case of form reflecting content, since its rampant pilfering from the DNA of other texts speaks directly to the film’s crisis of selfhood as an infinite regress into uncertainty.
But this is just special pleading. Oblivion is interested in neither homage nor the postmodern condition. It’s a flaccid pastiche — and more insultingly, one that assumes its audience doesn’t know Jack.