You don’t go to Tom Cruise movies to think.
You go for the swagger and the fisticuffs. For the life-endangering stunts most viewers will just assume were computer-generated. And to bask in the warmth of his megawatt smile and get lost in those green, green eyes …
Sorry, where were we? Oh yeah, you’re not supposed to think.
Just like Cruise’s “Oblivion” character, Jack Harper.
It’s 2077, 60 years after aliens destroyed the moon, causing earthquakes and tsunamis that leveled half of Earth. What those didn’t get, we took out ourselves by unleashing nuclear weapons to defeat the invaders.
With the planet uninhabitable, what’s left of humanity has been evacuated to Saturn’s moon Titan.
And Jack’s been left behind like a human WALL-E to look after the drones, the malevolent orbs of furious death that protect the enormous rigs that harvest what remains of the oceans’ water before converting it to hydrogen to power the new colony.
Jack’s a glorified maintenance man, and the last thing anybody wants him to do is think. Especially after the mandatory memory wipe he was given five years ago “for security reasons.”
But that doesn’t stop him from dreaming about a life he couldn’t possibly have known — Manhattan, the Empire State Building and a beautiful woman — before things went kablooey.
Jack and his by-the-book navigator/bedmate Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are two weeks away from joining everyone else on Titan when a spacecraft with NASA markings crash-lands in a dangerous sector. Then a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko), who looks suspiciously like the one Jack’s been dreaming about, is found among the wreckage.
To say much more would ruin the experience, because all, as they say about movies like this, is not as it seems.
Director Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”), working from a script by Karl Gajdusek (TV’s “Last Resort”) and Michael deBruyn that’s based on Kosinski’s graphic novel, has assembled a fantastic looking film. Dystopian wastelands rarely have been this beautiful, thanks in part to “Oblivion’s” being shot in cutting-edge 4K resolution.
Jack lives high above the clouds in a sweet, sterile Skytower, complete with a highly unnecessary swimming pool.
He spends his days patrolling the skies in a gyroscopic, dragonflylike thingamajig. But he prefers a more down-to-earth existence. Literally and figuratively.
Jack has assembled a rustic retreat full of artifacts — books, a catcher’s mitt, he can even shoot some hoops while listening to Led Zeppelin and Procol Harum LPs on a (somehow) functioning turntable — on perhaps the last pleasant acre of Earth. It’s a place where he can relax, put on his flannel shirt — he’s still stuck in his space pants, though — and feel human again.
Speaking of humans, Morgan Freeman turns up as the leader of a ragtag group of survivors. And fellow Oscar winner Melissa Leo is Sally, the Max Headroom-y, Time-Life operator-style commanding officer who’s forever asking if Jack and Victoria are still an effective team.
It’s moments like those that let you know, almost from the start, that things are a little off.
Despite the presence of a chunk of the Statue of Liberty, though, “Oblivion” is nowhere near the mind-blower of “Planet of the Apes.” As twists go, this one is the C+C Music Factory of reveals. It’ll make you go “Hmmm …” more than “Wow!”
Once you know what’s really going on, the whole thing seems awfully convoluted and impractical.
And, unfortunately, odds are you know at least one egghead who’ll explain to you — in grueling, insufferable detail — how what happens couldn’t really happen.
Still, “Oblivion” delivers a blast of midsummer heat to the middle of April.
And, unlike many a potential blockbuster, it’s full of ambition.
Just try not to think about it too much.