Earth is nearly uninhabitable after a war with aliens known as Scavengers (Scavs for short). The Scavs destroyed the Moon which caused massive earthquakes and tsunami then sent down an invasion force. To win the war, humanity had to use nuclear weapons. While the Scavs were defeated, most of the planet was ruined. What’s left of humanity is either heading for Saturn’s moon Titan or living on a giant orbiting space station called the Tet. The last few people left on Earth are overseeing the collection of seawater to use as fuel for fusion reactors and repairing heavily armed drones that protect the massive water collection machines from the few remaining Scavs. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of these technicians. He is paired with a communications officers name Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough). They are co-workers and lovers, sharing a home built on a massive tower thousands of feet above the ground. Both Jack and Victoria had their memories wiped to prevent them from giving up sensitive information should they be captured by Scavs. Their actions are directed by Sally (Melissa Leo) who is stationed on board the Tet. Jack and Victoria only have two weeks left before they can leave for Titan with the remaining survivors. Jack is troubled by recurring dreams involving a beautiful woman and the two being on the observation level of the Empire State Building in New York. He doesn’t know the woman but he feels like he should. To escape the everyday pressures of his job, Jack often visits a cabin by a lake in one of the few areas of the world that looks to have been untouched by the war. Jack has collected a wide range of items from the various buildings he’s had to enter to repair downed drones. He’s found old vinyl records and a turntable, books, a baseball and a Yankees cap to name a few. While visiting the cabin, Jack sees a space craft entering the atmosphere. Jack goes to the crash site and finds the remains of a vessel and several suspended animation pods with people inside. One of the people is the woman from his dreams. Her name is Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko) and when she wakes up, she recognizes Jack as well. One of the drones shows up and begins destroying the pods but Jack is able to prevent it from killing Julia. Jack takes Julia back to his home but Victoria doesn’t like having her there. Julia wants to recover her ship’s data recorder and Jack takes her out in his ship without telling Victoria. They recover the recorder but are captured by Scavs. The Scavs reveal themselves to actually be humans led by Beech (Morgan Freeman). Beech wants Jack to reprogram a drone to take a bomb up to the Tet and destroy it. Jack refuses and inexplicably, Beech lets him and Julia go, encouraging Jack to check out one of the radiation zones to discover that the truth about his life and what’s going on aboard the Tet.
Over the years, I’ve reviewed several Tom Cruise movies. I’ve not made any secret of the fact that I think Mr. Cruise is a massive tool. Between his several marriages, his devotion to Scientology and his behavior several years ago on the Today Show, Tom Cruise strikes me a man who thinks far too much of himself. For a while, I didn’t want to spend any money on his movies; however, he keeps making films that are very entertaining. While I still think he’s a tool, Cruise has earned my respect as a movie star with very good instincts for material and “Oblivion” has done nothing to diminish that belief.
What struck me first about the film is how good it looks. No expense was apparently spared to give the film a fully realized and authentic feel, even though it is set in the near future with devastated landscapes, fantastic flying machines and impressive advanced technology. The home Cruise lives in is like something out of Architectural Digest. The sleek styling and clean lines will strike many people as a template for their own future homes. Of course, you probably won’t be able to duplicate the location several thousand feet in the air, the transparent swimming pool nor the high-tech touch screen control center but the rest of it is probably doable. Seeing the aftermath of the war is also handled with enormous attention to detail and very realistic visuals. Giant oil tanker ships sit far inland, the Empire State Building has three-quarters of its height buried in dirt, waterfalls cascade down into an artificial valley created between rows of buildings buried in sediments deposited by tsunami and a massive crater occupies most of the area formerly known as the Pentagon. It all paints a devastating picture of what the world had to deal with during the alien invasion and is starkly in contrast with the image of a futuristic home in the sky.
All the primary actors do a terrific job in their roles. Cruise turns in a great performance as Jack, giving his character a kind of confused innocence about his life and his place in this very different world. Andrea Riseborough plays Victoria with a passionate coldness that both entices and off puts. She can be very sexual in her relationship with Jack but when the added component of Julia arrives, her mood changes noticeably. While Olga Kurylenko isn’t given much to do but look pretty, frightened and concerned, she does all that very well. She plays Julia as a doe-eyed innocent who returns to a world that is as alien as Titan would be; however, Julia can be tough and brave when necessary. Morgan Freeman does nothing to damage his reputation as an actor who can fit in any role and do it very well. His resistance leader Beech has only a small role but is the catalyst for all the action in the last half of the movie. He also looks very cool in his black outfit with a cape that appears to be modified from a trench coat.
If the movie has any weakness, it’s the way Jack and Victoria go about their duties without asking any questions. That begins to make more sense as more of the plot is revealed but I still found it rather odd. I also asked myself, after a devastating war with an alien race that in the film’s timeline is only four years away, where did all this advanced technology for the water extraction machines, the armed drones, Jack’s flying bubble craft and the Tet come from? It took over a decade to construct the International Space Station without an alien war to get in the way. How did all this expensive and complicated machinery get designed, manufactured and deployed with the population of the Earth decimated by interplanetary war? Again, it makes more sense as the story goes along, but I still found Jack and Victoria’s lack of curiosity somewhat annoying.
“Oblivion” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity. There is a fair amount of violence but most of it is aimed at the armored drones. The drones themselves are efficient killers and their weaponry reduces a human body to confetti in a single shot. There is also a hand-to-hand fight involving Cruise that is somewhat brutal. There’s not much in the way of blood or gore. We see a bare female backside a couple of times. There is also the suggestion of sex but nothing explicit. Foul language is rare.
It may not be perfect, but I found “Oblivion” very entertaining. The story kept me interested, the mystery is somewhat obvious but still fun as it is revealed and the characters, while not complex, feel fairly real considering their situation. Despite my opinion that Tom Cruise is a tool, his movies are usually nonetheless entertaining. I know there are people who think I’m a tool and that’s ok. I just wish I was a super famous movie star so I could buy their love with fast cars and gaudy baubles. Oh well, such is life.
“Oblivion” gets five guitars out of five.
Three films are up for your consideration this week. Vote for the next movie I see and review.
The Big Wedding—A charmingly modern family tires to survive a weekend wedding celebration that has the potential to become a full blown family fiasco.
The Lords of Salem—From the singular mind of horror maestro Rob Zombie comes a chilling plunge into a nightmare world where evil runs in the blood.
Pain & Gain—Based on a true story, a group of steroid-abusing bodybuilders engage in a campaign of kidnapping, extortion and murder in Florida.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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