Didn’t Tom Cruise just make a movie called Jack Reacher? It came out a few months ago, right? I mean, this doesn’t have anything to do with Oblivion, not really, except that Tom Cruise’s character’s name here is Jack Harper, which is almost comically similar. In his old age, is Tom Cruise suffering from a classic case of Tony Danza Syndrome, having trouble embodying characters with different names?
Whatever. It’s the future. The moon is partially blown up. There’s a big giant triangle in the sky. Jack Harper tells us that the aliens came, that we won, but the planet got destroyed in the process. So everybody moved to one of Saturn’s moons. Harper is part of a two-person operation, the only ones left behind, the cleanup crew.
I hesitate to say too much more about the plot, because it’s actually a pretty cool story, one that almost necessitates the viewer not knowing anything about it beforehand. If I had to describe it like something else, I’d say it’s about one cup Vanilla Sky, sifted with several heaping teaspoons of The Matrix, with a pinch of Star Wars fight scenes mixed in. After all of these dry ingredients are blended thoroughly, the whole mass is then combined with fifty percent … well, I’m not going to tell you which movie, because again, that would reveal way, way too much. But once you see what they’re doing in Oblivion, it’s obvious. (If you want to be spoiled, just read the New York Times review.) In fact, if Oblivion weren’t actually a decent film, I’d kind of want to call it a rip-off, not entirely, but yeah, fifty percent.
But Oblivion is a pretty good film, which kind of took me by surprise. I guess it’s Tom Cruise’s fault really. The man isn’t even a man anymore, he’s something post-human. He doesn’t age, he’s done like a million huge blockbusters, and he’s sitting in the cockpit of Scientology Inc. When I see Tom Cruise in a movie, I don’t see Jack Harper, or whatever role he’s trying to play, I just see Tom Cruise, jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch, scolding Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants.
And so before the plot really gets going, before we start to figure out exactly what’s going on, Oblivion doesn’t feel like a real movie at all. You know when you’re watching a TV show, and the characters are watching some over the top sci-fi movie on their TV? That’s what this feels like. It feels like you’re watching Ted, but instead of just showing five seconds or so of that Flash Gordon movie, you wind up having to watch the entire thing.
But, and again, I felt the same way watching Vanilla Sky, once you get past Tom Cruise, once you start to look at what’s going on, why the characters are doing what they’re doing, why Jack Harper wears an old Yankees cap every time he descends to the planet, why Morgan Freeman gets prime billing even though his Morpheus-lite character only plays a somewhat minor role, what you’re left with is a nice little film.
It’s everything that I love about sci-fi as a genre. You’re treated to visions of how tomorrow may or may not look. You’re presented with themes and concepts that at once incorporate while at the same time transcend the futuristic technology that paints the backdrop of the story. You’re constantly questioning everything, motives, relationships, the very essence of reality.
Which isn’t to say it’s a perfect movie. There’s a fair share of cheesy one-liners. Like a lot of non-franchised sci-fi, the costumes and settings have a hard time trying not to evoke Star Wars and Star Trek, and as a result, sometimes the future winds up looking a little too boring, a whole quart of plain nonfat yogurt, and not even the trendy Greek kind, just regular Dannon.
My advice: don’t read anything about the movie, you know, aside from this review which, if you’ve made it to this last paragraph, you’ve already read all of it. But that’s fine, because I didn’t tell you to abstain from reviews until right now. Self-serving? A little, yeah. But seriously, just go watch the movie. Don’t question anything until the end. It’s actually kind of cool.