Movie review: ‘Oblivion’ avoids well-worn path

By Evan Bevins

The Marietta Times

When I saw the first trailer for “Oblivion,” the new sci-fi mindbender starring Tom Cruise as possibly the last man on Earth, my expectations were tempered by my perception that most of the story had already been revealed.

It certainly looked interesting, with Cruise’s exploration of the ruins of humanity, populated by mysterious creatures scurrying in the shadows. But by the time (surprise!) other unexpected humans popped up in the preview, I figured I only needed about seven more minutes of footage to tell the complete story.

Boy, was I wrong.

Cruise plays Jack Harper, a guy going to work day after day at the same old job – maintaining the drones that protect massive machinery on Earth that in turn supports the new human settlement on Saturn’s moon Titan. The drones are repeatedly assaulted by alien “Scavs” left behind following a war that devastated the planet. In between repairing the security ‘bots, Jack wanders the wasteland that was Earth, trying to reconnect to a home he can’t remember, thanks to a security-mandated mindwipe.

Jack’s only companion is his communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, “W./E.”), who does not share his nostalgia for Earth. Then there’s the woman (Olga Kurylenko, “Quantum of Solace”) haunting Jack’s dreams and suddenly in the flesh when a mysterious craft crashes on the planet’s surface.

Yeah, Morgan Freeman’s in it too. The less said about his role, the better, but only from a story standpoint. I mean, it’s Morgan Freeman, so you know there’ll be quality screen time.

The sweeping visuals overseen by director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) and his crew establish an epic scale, even though the first portion of the film consists mostly of just two characters, Jack and Victoria. Cruise and Riseborough’s performances clearly establish the tense and mundane aspects of their day-to-day lives.

Events do not unfold in the manner I assumed they would from the trailer, which upped the excitement as the story proceeded. Further proving I wasn’t smarter than the writers (including Kosinski, who based the film on his original graphic novel), some items I’d pegged as unrealistic or sloppy mistakes actually turned out to be clues to what’s really happening.

Before long, “Oblivion” had me contemplating a few deeper issues than I’d expected going in, in the midst of some very tense action sequences. Sorry to be so vague, but I believe the element of surprise is an important part of the movie experience and shouldn’t be robbed by spoilers.

The violence is not excessive for the story they’re trying to tell; the discussion of global death and destruction may prove more upsetting to younger viewers. There were only a couple unfortunate instances of profanity, although one comes at a crucial point in the film.

Cruise and Freeman are the headliners of course, but Kurylenko and Riseborough are the heart. Despite the massive scale of “Oblivion,” the impact remains very – for lack of a better term – human.