For its first hour or so, "Oblivion" plays like it's assembled from the spare parts of all the classic sci-fi films. That's not negative criticism either, because with direction by Joseph Kosinski, "Oblivion" immediately provides imagery worth remembering while setting up a story that at first seems inspired by countless familiar ones. Then in the second act, it throws in some twists and surprises and becomes something else entirely. This is a truly spectacular film that could easily stand next next to the great sci-fi pictures of old.
Joseph Kosinski has only one previous directing credit to his name - "Tron: Legacy," 2010's sequel to the 80's staple starring Jeff Bridges. "Tron: Legacy" was essentially ignored on its release, but is an exceptional entertainment with striking images if its own. Now with "Oblivion," Kosinski is apparently working from an original story, and if this is a sign of things to come, he will be in high demand. The story itself starts out simple enough. In the year 2077, earth has been wiped out from nuclear war, and sometime later, an alien race called "scavengers" came to utilize the planet's resources. To preserve what little is left of the planet in hopes to rebuild, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) repairs drones that defend gigantic power converters that use sea water to do...something. His partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) sits at a control desk in their sky tower to provide him with directives given by Sally (Melissa Leo), who commands everything from the Tet, a space station that sits just outside the earth's atmosphere.
This may sound like a live-action "Wall-E," but Oblivion has quite a bit more going for it. For one thing, Jack and Victoria are lovers; after all, they are presumably the only two flesh bodies on earth. Trouble is, Jack keeps dreaming about a woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko), but he's never met her and can't explain why he remembers New York City the way it was before he was even alive. Although, there is that mandatory memory wipe every five years. Hmm. This is just where "Oblivion" begins to lengthen its mystery and intrigue the audience. You may be wondering for instance where Morgan Freeman comes into play? From the trailers you may have gathered he leads some sort of underground resistance. Yes, but resistance to what? The answers are where "Oblivion" has its fun and it unravels at a perfect pace, revealing bits of information at the exact moment that the same bits dawn on you. Smart stuff.
Nobody should leave this movie bored, either. There is plenty of action to satisfy those hungry for it, but "Oblivion" is not a slave to it, and employs only what makes sense for the world it inhabits. What matters is how we feel about who the action is happening to, and Kosinski is wise to have cast Cruise and Kurylenko, who play their roles earnestly, which really sells the deeper ideas always just under the surface. Sci-fi though it may be, this is pretty weighty material, with some truly thought-provoking ideas about the nature of our own existence. Not only that, but how our existence both relies on, and contributes to the existence of others. If you're thinking "well duh," just wait until the climax of "Oblivion" and you might get what I mean.
With the trend of sequels and remakes at its absolute crux, it's refreshing when something like "Oblivion" comes along; a mostly original sci-fi movie with timeless appeal and a great many things on its mind. It's certainly worth more than one viewing just to wrap your head around everything it wants to say. But even if you see it once, you'll be glad you did. It's the kind of movie that won't leave you hanging. I only had one question during the last moments and then "Oblivion" went right ahead and answered it with the last shot. It's that kind of movie.