Tom Cruise faces Oblivion

The movie’s gorgeous, but that beauty is only skin deep.

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I’m tempted to trash Oblivion as empty-headed sci-fi leaning hard on star power and special effects in lieu of ideas to draw an audience. That would be a fair response to the film, and your enjoyment of it or lack thereof will largely depend on your ability to turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. For large chunks of Oblivion I was able to go full zombie, soaking up the made-for-IMAX visuals without worrying too much about where the film was headed. After it was over, though, I found the movie seemed more successful the less I thought about. Pesky brain …

Tom Cruise stars as Jack, who works the drone maintenance detail on a desolate and destroyed future Earth. Some years back an alien force invaded the planet, smashing the moon and causing the near-destruction of the human race. Mankind unleashed its worst weapons, repelling the invasion but leaving the planet largely inhospitable. Jack and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the last remaining inhabitants (or so they think), keeping the drone fleet operational and killing “Scavs” (alien invaders still on the planet) while giant machines harvest the planet’s remaining water. In two weeks time, the pair will rocket off to join the rest of humanity on Saturn’s moon Titan.

At least, that’s what Jack and Victoria think is going on. I’ll avoid spoilers, but I will say that nearly everything I just described turns out to be a big lie sold to the characters, with the “truth” only coming to light after Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko arrive on the scene and muddy things up. I had plenty of questions at the end of Oblivion, almost all of them concerning plot holes. Unfortunately, I can’t pose any of them here without ruining the film’s surprises. See it and we’ll talk.

Several things about Oblivion impressed me, starting with Tom Cruise’s performance. The actor completely throws himself into the role, and many of the film’s goofy moments fly because Cruise is so obviously committed to the material. The more you like Tom Cruise, the more you will dig Oblivion. I also greatly enjoyed the visuals and sound design of the film, and was delighted by everything from the look of the shattered moon to the sounds made by the drones (think the space pods from 2001 given a make-over by DARPA), which believably woosh, spin and fire an impressive array of weapons.

In the end, Oblivion is largely a throwaway, eschewing big ideas or any grand statement in an effort to entertain as many paying customers (in as many countries) as possible. I liked it just fine, though I have no need to ever see it again. And coming from a fan of sci-fi, that’s perhaps the most damning criticism of all.

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