Go ahead. Indulge in the very best movie promo tie-in ever: the Oblivion-branded Mandatory Memory Wipe, available at the concession stand with the popcorn and nachos. It’s so cool! Then you can walk into Oblivion with no recollection of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Independence Day and 2012 and Mad Max and Planet of the Apes and the entire history of science fiction movies, and hence you’ll enjoy yourself ever so much more.
And you get to be like Tom Cruise! Because a “Mandatory Memory Wipe” is exactly what his Jack Harper has undergone. It’s a security thing, you see, in case he gets captured by the alien Scavengers still scurrying around on planet Earth, still hanging out even though they lost the war with humans. (You’d think they’d take a hint and go home, but no.)
The Scavs are intent on causing trouble, and it’s Jack’s job, as a sort of roving Maytag repairman, to keep in the air the fleet of drone weapons that are protecting, from Scav attack, the ginormous fusion-reactor thingies that are turning Earth’s oceans into a power source for Titan, a moon of Saturn, to which the human survivors of the war have decamped, what with Earth reduced to a radioactive wasteland and all. Jack’s partner — in work and love — is Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), and she’s been memory-wiped, too. Only two more weeks to go in their tour of duty, and then it’s their turn to head out to the new paradise on Titan.
If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn — only slightly damaged by some minor planetary crustal displacement — to sell you.
It’s possible that director Joseph Kosinski instead imagined he was shooting a commercial for Ikea 2077, but that’s cool, too. You will drool over the glossy domestic techno-porn that is Jack and Victoria’s cushy post-apocalypse lifestyle. The film on the whole is far more visually intriguing than Kosinski’s debut, the dreadfully ugly Tron: Legacy. The imagery of the destroyed Moon — which ostensibly caused the geological upheaval that did much of the damage on Earth — is shocking like a train wreck, a colossal cracked egg in the sky now trailing rings of debris, but also beautiful in a horrific way.
Don’t expect to be surprised by the plot or characters, which are so derivative not only of classic sci-fi films and little cult favorites — many of which will have been seen only by the geekiest of geeks — but also of recent big-budget blockbusters.