Fans of sci-fi may find some positives in ‘Oblivion’

By Christopher K. Conner

Set in 2077, “Oblivion” stars Tom Cruise as drone repair technician 49, Jack Harper. Jack and his mission coordinator and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the last two humans on Earth. Sixty years earlier, an alien spacecraft destroyed the moon, causing havoc as tidal forces instantly shifted and the oceans rushed to a new equilibrium.

After the destruction created by the moon’s demise, an alien invasion force arrived. Known as Scavs, the aliens were bent on destroying humanity and taking Earth’s resources for themselves. Out gunned, humanity was forced to use the Earth’s nuclear arsenals to defeat the invaders. Humanity won the war, but the Earth sustained so much damage it was uninhabitable.

The survivors fled to Jupiter’s moon, Titan. To survive there, they need energy. That energy is coming from Earth’s oceans as they are sucked into giant machines and turned into fuel for nuclear fusion reactors.

The remaining Scav army linger in the inhabitable areas, and constantly attempt to sabotage the energy producing machines, so drones are employed to protect them. Jack’s job is to repair the drones that break down or are taken out by Scavs.

Jack and Victoria (or Vica) have two weeks to wait before they will abandon their station and head to the Tet, a giant ship in orbit that will take the last of humanity to Titan. Victoria is anxious to leave. Jack isn’t so sure.

Despite having his mind wiped to protect the mission in case he is captured by Scavs, he keeps having flashes of memory. In dreams at first, but later when certain cues start turning up, he remembers a woman. He doesn’t know who she is and he shouldn’t be able to remember anything from before the war as that was long before he was born.

As the end of their mission approaches, the Scavs start attacking more frequently and effectively. Jack realizes one of their actions seems to have been an effort to capture him. The next day, Scavs manage to blow up one of the water processing machines.

Attracted to a Scav beacon on the ruined Empire State building, Jack goes to investigate. Vica is able to decode the transmission, which appears to be a latitude and longitude. The two don’t understand why the Scavs would be sending a signal into space.

Jack takes an opportunity to do a perimeter check, but instead goes to a house he has built on a lake in a sheltered valley. There he has collected a number of mementos and rigged electricity for lights and a record player. Jack falls asleep and is awakened by the sound of a craft reentering the atmosphere.

Going to investigate, he finds a number of humans in sleep pods, survivors of a craft called Odyssey. One of the survivors appears to be the woman from Jack’s memory. Then drones arrive and start killing all of the sleeping survivors. Jack manages to save the woman by standing in front of her pod.

Taking the woman, still encased in her sleep pod, back to his tower, he and Vica wake her and nurse her back to health. When she is waking up, she recognizes Jack and calls him by name. Once fully recovered, Julia (Olga Kurylenko) insists that they return to the ship to recover the flight recorder. While recovering the recorder, Jack and Julia are captured by Scavs. What he learns foments the feelings of doubt he’d already had about leaving Earth.

The appearance of Julia seems to gnaw at Vica. At first it is easy to assume that Vica is just toeing the line, following regulations. Over time, though, I started to feel like she knows more than she was letting on. Like she was having memories too, only not as warm and pleasant as Jack’s.  At one point she admits that she doesn’t want to know what Jack knows, implying she doesn’t want to risk the reality she is living for the memories she’s suppressing.

Previews have to walk the line between displaying the films actors in characters that make the audience want to see them, and giving away the plot. “Oblivion” did suffer a bit from revealing Malcom Beech (Morgan Freeman) in the previews.  So much so that much of his time on screen seemed rushed, like the secrets he’s holding are expected to not be all that secret by the time you get to them. Malcom blurts out bombshells with only a hint of restraint. Freeman does look impressive in the role even if the character doesn’t have a whole lot for him to work with.

Even though “Oblivion” uses plot points that hearken back to Thundarr the Barbarian and any number of other post-apocalyptic movies and Saturday morning cartoons, it does so in such a visually appealing way, I couldn’t help but enjoy watching. While much of the plot was fairly predictable for anyone that has seen one of its advertisements, there were moments of revelation that made me think it enough was kept secret that maybe the previews hadn’t spoiled everything.

“Oblivion” uses its cast well, and the setting to great effect. Fans of sci-fi might even find a piece or two they haven’t seen before. Those that aren’t fans of the genre might have a hard time with some parts, but most of the film isn’t sci-fi for the sake of it. I went in to “Oblivion” with high hopes and was surprised to leave less disappointed than I expected to be. The place I was most disappointed came at the end, but if I say why I’d be worse than the previews about spoiling it.

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