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Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, a security repairmen stationed on an evacuated Earth in “Oblivion.” Photo by David James
Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, a security repairmen stationed on an evacuated Earth in “Oblivion.” Photo by David James

Film review: ‘Oblivion’ is good mix of sci-fi story, visuals

Visually absorbing and action-packed, “Oblivion” infuses the grand, epic scale of its bleak universe with a soul as old as time, which is, in turn, strengthened by the heartfelt efforts of Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko. 

In the future, Earth suffers an invasion from an alien race called Scavengers (Scavs), which results in the moon being destroyed. The humans win the war, but the conflict renders the planet uninhabitable. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a drone repairman, is paired up with his communications officer, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), to extract what remains of the planet’s natural resources, before rejoining the rest of humanity on the Saturn moon of Titan.

One day, Jack comes across a crashed spacecraft containing a beautiful stranger (Olga Kurylenko) whom he recognizes from the dreams and flashbacks that have been troubling him. With her emerges a revelation that forces him to question everything he knows about what happened to Earth and what his superiors have told him. And as he begins to uncover the truth about the mysterious woman he’s met, it becomes more and more apparent Jack will have to make a decision that affects the future of humanity.

Director Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”) has a knack for eye-catching visual aesthetics, and his expertise in constructing a beautiful world only gets better in his second film. Each scene exhibits visuals that are nothing short of spectacular, ranging from the clean-cut magnificent (e.g., the Tower, the Bubble Ship, and the Tet space station) to the hauntingly desolate (e.g., Empire State Building, football stadium, and Jack’s cabin retreat). Whether you’re into visuals or not, there’s no denying the majesty in the director’s illustrative artistry.

A thunderous electronic soundtrack by the French band M83 heightens the atmosphere in “Oblivion,” bringing the characters’ emotions into focus as they discover more about each other and the situation they’re facing. Once again, Kosinski amazes us with his ability to incorporate a score that enhances the vibrancy of the film’s vast landscape.

Visuals and music aren’t the only elements Kosinski has improved on since “TRON: Legacy;” characterization has certainly undergone a significant evolution. The spectacle of “Oblivion” never overrides the character story that Kosinski seeks to tell, and his collaboration with Cruise and Kurylenko generates a heart that refuses to stop beating.

I admired how Cruise instills Jack with a curiosity about and longing for an Earth he never experienced in his lifetime, and in addition to keeping his action hero status in top form, he traverses the dead planet with a wistful composure.

As for Kurylenko, she delivers an excellent performance as Julia by tapping into her grace and elegance, as well as her determination to do what she must to help both Jack and humanity.

On the supporting end of the spectrum, Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman brings an authoritative aura of mystery and observant wisdom to the film in small, concentrated bursts.

The action sequences are captured in sweeping, fluid motions and evoke the breathtaking intensity we felt when “Star Wars” entered the public consciousness. I cannot tell you the exhilaration I felt coursing through my veins as I witnessed the Bubble Ship battling the drones that pursued it across a desolate Earth. And speaking of drones, their presence in this film serves as an eerie reminder of the same controversial weaponized instruments we use today.

Admittedly, the bulk of the plot consists of elements derived from science fiction films of the 1960s and 70s, which I suspect will click well with genre fans. I understand this isn’t one of the more original stories out there, but when was the last time anything qualified as truly original? If anything, much like “The Hunger Games” and “Looper” in 2012, “Oblivion” takes the components of its predecessors and mixes them together to create an intelligent mind of its own that still manages to be unique and entertaining.

When you go see “Oblivion” in theaters, you ought to see it in IMAX. Since the film was shot using IMAX cameras, the format is ideal for capturing the colossal qualities of the story, characters, soundtrack, post-apocalyptic universe, etc. In other words, this expressive science fiction adventure is meant to be experienced in IMAX, spare no expense. Otherwise, what’s the point?

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity.
Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes
Playing: General release