Directed By: Joseph Kosinski

Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

"And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods.
-Thomas Babington Macaulay, "Horatius", Lays of Ancient Rome

The summer movie season is almost upon us!  In a couple of weeks, Iron Man 3 will roll into theaters, and we'll be getting down to some real business.  Until then, we have a little bit of a preamble to wet our appetites.  We have the new Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion.  As one of the earliest big budget releases of the year, this new sci-fi thriller gets the jump on all the other post-apocalyptic flicks on the way.  It's really just the first of many to come this year within the niche genre.  This year, mankind will also struggle to survive in films such as After Earth, World War Z, Pacific Rim, and Elysium.  With all these similar films on the way, there is one way in which Oblivion stands out from the pack, and the quote from “Horatius” demonstrates this.  We get to see Tom Cruise’s poetic side.

There is an alien race known as Scavengers.  They travel from planet to planet consuming resources and eradicating life forms.  In the early half of the 21st century, these aliens blew up the moon and launched an assault on Earth.  The trigger-happy humans naturally turned to nuclear weapons and blew the Scavengers out of the sky.  By winning the war, however, they lose the planet.  Nuked to a crisp, Earth is no longer inhabitable, and the surviving humans remain aboard a space vessel known as the Tet sucking up the last of the planet's clean water so that they can someday survive on Titan, a moon to the planet Saturn.

Commander Jack Harper (Cruise) is Tech 49 and one of the last remaining humans on Earth.  Along with his partner Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough), Jack is responsible for servicing drones — machines designed to annihilate the remaining Scavenger aliens — and ultimately maintaining a safe environment where resources can be gathered and sent to Tet.  Though Jack and Victoria make an effective team, they've lost several drones in recent weeks, and the Scavengers have stolen their fuel cells.  Their job is becoming increasingly dangerous.  After having done this for quite some time, Jack and Victoria will rejoin the group in two weeks and move to Titan.  Beyond their professional life, Jack and Victoria are lovers.

Jack has been having some bad dreams lately.  He dreams of time spent atop the Empire State Building with some lovely mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko), but he knows this is impossible.  He dreams of a time before the war and before mankind lost the planet.  In a strange turn of events, the impossible starts to look a little more possible when a mysterious ship lands and Jack rescues the mysterious woman about whom he's been dreaming, a woman named Julia.  As he gets to know her, Jack begins to question everything he believes to be true.  Meanwhile, Julia's presence definitely complicates Jack's relationship with Victoria as well as their boss Sally (Melissa Leo).

Oblivion is a movie that pays homage to many sci-fi movies of the past.  Director Joseph Kosinki incorporates many of the themes and plot elements that franchises like The Terminator, The Matrix, and Alien have made their own over the years.  Even with unendingly impressive visuals and a surprisingly enjoyable score full of bravado, Kosinki navigates some tough cinematic terrain.  More specifically, Kosinki has to somehow rehash all these themes in a fresh, innovative way and simultaneously deliver a big budget sci-fi film chock full of action and thrills in a short two-hour period.  While I certainly respect his effort to do both in this post-apocalyptic thriller, I must acknowledge that Kosinki doesn't walk this tightrope perfectly.  Trying to tell such a grand story and reveal so much to his audience, Kosinki loses a bit of his focus in Oblivion's final act, and it shows.

As expected, Oblivion is the Tom Cruise Show.  With just a few other cast members and limited interactions with anybody else, the film almost entirely hinges on his performance.  Well, Cruise delivers the goods as usual.  Quoting Thomas Babington Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome and grappling with the sad truth that's been hidden from him, Cruise delivers a character that transitions from a poetic, futuristic lone ranger to a conflicted clone who doesn't know his place in the universe.  He does so in a way that only Tom Cruise can do.  The film's other big star is Morgan Freeman.  As resistance leader Malcolm Beech, Freeman surprises us and does a little acting again.  As of late, he's bizarrely taken quick paychecks for films like Olympus Has Fallen and Scary Movie 5.  I'm not sure why the 75 year-old Oscar winner needs the money, but it was hard to watch/hear him in these movies.  In Oblivion, on the other hand, Freeman gives us the smooth, stately actor we all know and love.

The supporting cast does a great job as well.  As Jack's partner Victoria Olsen, Andrea Riseborough delivers a straight arrow who always follows the regulations and often gives Cruise a hard time for not doing so himself.  When she turns into a woman scorned, she becomes even more delightful in her interactions with Cruise.  As the survivor Julia who has been awakened from delta sleep, Olga Kurylenko brings a warmth to the film that's undeniable.  The Quantum of Solace Bond girl is a pleasure to watch on screen as she grapples with the future she's largely missed.  I also enjoyed Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's bit role as Sykes.  In this one, Game of Thrones's King Slayer doesn’t do too much talking.  He shoots first and asks questions later.  Aside from the cast, I have to say that Kosinki gives us some mean drones.  These weaponized machines are some of the most menacing pieces of hardware I've seen in quite some time.  They almost have personalities and often serve as a proxy for cold, calculating antagonists.

With the hodgepodge of science fiction themes, Oblivion is somewhat predictable.  As each major plot twist approaches, it becomes very clear.  On the whole though, it's a very creative film that you just might like.  With strong performances from the cast and a heavy hand from Joseph Kosinki, the film offers some solid popcorn fare that will never lose your attention.  Oblivion gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.