© 2013 Ray Wong

As science fiction, Tom Cruise's new movie Oblivion follows a familiar story arc that is part mystery and part psychological drama, set against a fantastical post-apocalyptic planet Earth.

Almost 50 years after the alien invasion that almost destroyed the world, maintenance technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and control officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have the thankless job of fixing droids and keeping the "Scavs" -- surviving aliens who still inhabit Earth -- from destroying the hydro-plants that are turning Earth's seawater into reusable resources. For security reasons, their memories have been wiped to protect the integrity of their mission.

With two more weeks to go before they complete their tasks and join the rest of humanity, which has relocated to Titan, Victoria is looking forward to leaving this God forsaken world. But Jack feels differently -- somehow he wants to stay and call the deserted world "home."

After a beacon brings down an old spacecraft that has been orbiting Earth for over 50 years, Jack rescues a mysterious survivor, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who has recently appeared in Jack's recurring dreams even though he doesn't know her. Having come out of her delta-sleep, Julia immediately recognizes Jack but refuses to tell him how until Jack retrieves her flight recorder. Meanwhile, the Scavs are trying to capture Jack, for reasons that are beyond his comprehension.

What Jack discovers will completely change his perception of who he is and what he is doing on Earth. Suddenly his plans change, and he is determined to do what he can to save Julia and the planet he wishes to call home.

As Jack Harper, Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher) is recycling his arsenal of reluctant hero characters ranging from Ethan Hunt of Mission Impossible to Claus von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie. Even though Cruise's brought nothing new to the character, his performance is affable and believable, especially during most of the movie when Jack is confused and frightened.

The three female leads bring different sensibilities to their roles and the story. Olga Kurylenko (Seven Psychopaths) is gorgeous -- one can believe why Jack can fall for her -- but her performance is rather thin and one-dimensional. Andrea Riseborough (Disconnect) fares better with the complicated role of Victoria -- we certainly feel sorry for her and her dilemmas. Melissa Leo (Olympus Has Fallen) has a limited but pivotal role as Sally, the commander that Jack and Vicky report to. As usual, Leo does a good job.

Morgan Freeman (Olympus Has Fallen) plays Beech, a militant character that is a composite of different archetypes: the mentor, the wise man, etc. He, too, is simply recycling one of the characters he's been playing all along. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Mama) makes an impression as Sykes.

The screenplay by director-writer Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) and Karl Gajdusek (Trepass) is a step better than the mess that was TRON: Legacy. Working off an existential question of "Who am I?" the story touches more many familiar sci-fi themes and tropes. The story is derivative for sure; I am not going to list the movies because then I will be giving out the plot twists.

Speaking of plot twists, there are a few and they are significant. However, they are not entirely new and unpredictable. Even the title of the movie foretells what some of the twists could be, and any sci-fi fans who pay attention would have seen the twists coming from a mile away. That said, the twists are well executed and timed and the effects are just as draw-dropping if we allow ourselves to be immersed in this production.

And it is a top-notch production under the direction of Kosinski. One of the most impressive elements of the movie is the production design. They have created a post-apocalyptic world that is as much an eye-candy as it is a series of haunting images that remind me of how much we are taking our planet for granted. The technologies devised in the movie also spark certain imagination of possibilities.

While Oblivion is full of sci-fi tropes and derivative characters and storytelling, it does a good job in entertaining the audience for a bit over two hours. He has engaging, though cliched, characters that we can root for. While the plot twists do defy logic at times, they are not severe enough to jar us out of the story. I find myself totally engaged. While Cruise's new adventure may not be a masterpiece by any stretch, I doubt it will disappear into the oblivion any time soon.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Zoe Bell
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sexuality
Running Time: 126 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 9
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 9

Total - 7.6 out of 10.0 

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