Hollywood's love affair with the post-apocalyptic future of Earth continues in Oblivion. Co-written and directed by Joseph Kosinski, adapted from his own graphic novel, the story gives us a devastated landscape that used to be New York City, a human worker bee who survived the holocaust with a thirst for history, and has begun to question his mission, and a lot of really cool high-tech CGI machines that pivot around in mid-air and shoot from all directions. (No surprise that Kosinski's last film was the video-centric TRON: Legacy.)
If you know your dystopian sci-fi stories, Oblivion doesn't have a lot of surprises, plot-wise. And while Kosinski's visual canvas is large, and his themes epic, there are more than a few times when the storytelling plods onscreen, where narrative urgency gets lost amid all the gadgetry and prolonged shootouts. Still, the ideas are always interesting, the movie looks great, and Kosinski spins an eerie sense of contemplative yearning that keeps the viewer involved.
It's 2077, fifty years after a nuclear war with alien invaders turned most of the Earth into a desert of windswept rubble. "We won the war but lost the planet," says maintenance technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise); he and his communications officer, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) live in a tower high above the surface servicing the drone machines extracting the last of Earth's usable resources for the remaining humans who have relocated to a moon of Jupiter.
Although their memories have been wiped of all but the recent past to make them a more efficient team, Jack is troubled by dreams of old New York City from before he was born, and hoards cultural mementos like an old Yankees baseball cap, chewing gum, and books. On his daily rounds, zipping around in his bubble ship, he's menaced by "scavs," low-tech subterranean guerrillas who are the last remnants of the invading force. But when an unknown rocket crash-lands nearby with a human survivor (Olga Kurylenko, last seen in To the Wonder), everything Jack thinks he knows about himself and his mission changes.
Not everything seems to add up, although the altered-memories gambit always leaves room for debate. (More inexplicable are the spiked heels Victoria wears at her com desk.) But the love story has a nice payoff, and guest appearances by Morgan Freeman, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Led Zep and Procul Harum are more than welcome. (PG-13) 126 minutes. (**1/2). -LJ
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