If one man is to be entrusted with designing our future, we could do worse than architecture graduate Joseph Kosinski. Whatever its other shortcomings, Kosinski’s 2010 directorial debut Tron: Legacy constructed a virtual-reality universe so sharply dressed and decorated it was hard to see why the characters kept trying to escape.
He has repeated that trick in his follow-up, Oblivion, a sleek sci-fi playground of gleaming cloud palaces, where French hipsters M83 provide the electro-classical beats and even Tom Cruise’s dirtied radiation suit looks runway-ready. Set in 2077, 60 years after aliens supposedly laid waste to our planet and forced humanity into this chic sky shelter, Oblivion suggests the apocalypse may not be all bad news.
One person not delighting in this fashion-forward future is Cruise’s plaid-favouring Jack Harper, a former Marine now plundering our scorched Earth for its few remaining resources. With memories of their past lives wiped, Jack and his lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, sadly playing little more than a switchboard operator with benefits) work dutifully under the command of Melissa Leo’s Sally – essentially HAL with a perky Southern drawl. But when one of Jack’s missions turns up an oddly familiar-looking human time-traveller (Olga Kurylenko) from the year 2017, he is forced to question the rules of his existence.
The audience, meanwhile, will be questioning what those rules are in the first place, particularly when Harper is pursued by a parallel human race that has no obvious need for him. Like a haute couture designer with no grasp of ready-to-wear garb, Kosinski continues to lavish far more thought on how his elaborate fantasy worlds look than how they work, and neither the politics nor the human stakes here coalesce into rational or relatable drama. Oblivion finally plods even as it dazzles; a flick through Kosinski’s sketchbook would be quicker and equally impressive.