It's a lonely life, tending to the hydro rigs and the drones on a radioactive, post-apocalyptic planet Earth. But there's always that sky-high, ultramodern home to fly back to at the end of the day - a Jetsons-meets-Zaha Hadid aerie atop a 3,000-foot tower, with a swimming pool, a high-tech kitchen, and a leggy British girlfriend with perfect makeup and nails.
Such is the lot of Jack Harper, the latest Tom Cruise hero, in the polished-to-a-sheen sci-fi puzzler, Oblivion. The year is 2077, and according to Jack's introductory voice-over, humankind has won a nuclear war against alien invaders, but in the victory there was defeat: the moon has blown apart, causing epic tsunamis and earthquakes, and the atomic fallout left most of the globe uninhabitable.
And so everybody has rocketed off in the direction of Mars, to begin anew. Which leaves Jack Harper and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), his domestic partner and navigator, to keep the hydro rigs that supply water to the relocated billions safe from the pesky Scavengers, a band of hooded roustabouts who emerge from the caves at night.
But Jack and "Vika's" stint on Earth is almost done. A few more weeks, and they, too, can ship off to Titan, the biggest of the Martian moons.
Before we go any further, let it be be noted that Duncan Jones, the writer and director of the nifty 2009 sci-fi indie Moon, should contact an intellectual property lawyer. There are so many similarities between that modest, melancholy space drama, with Sam Rockwell as a solitary maintenance man servicing machinery and mining minerals on the lunar surface, and the spectacularly rendered, mega-budgeted Oblivion that it isn't funny. Apart from the premise, the two share a third-act reveal that, for the sake of those who may not have seen Moon, will not be disclosed.
Joseph Kosinski was handed the directorial reins on Oblivion after demonstrating a mastery of visual effects and an affinity for virtual realities with his debut, TRON: Legacy. He oversees some pretty impressive stuff here, from the drones that ping-pong around in the air to the bubbleship that Jack uses to go to and fro - a jet/helicopter hybrid with a gimbaling cockpit - to that awesome house with its panoramic views. The sleek, gray getups he and Riseborough wear aren't too shabby, either.
Right from the get-go, we're told that Jack has memories he shouldn't have (there was a "mandatory memory wipe"), and that a recurring one has to do with a beautiful woman he meets on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, back in the days before the war.
And so, when a spaceship crash-lands, Jack hies over to see what's up, and finds a beautiful woman - NASA name tag J. Rusakova - in a sleep pod. He brings the astronaut back to the cool pad he shares with Vika, and, well, that's when the trouble starts. It's like one of those Eric Rohmer moral tales: the man, the girlfriend, and the other woman, the one he really wants, or loves.
J stands for Julia, and Julia is played by Olga Kurylenko, the French muse of Terrence Malick's To the Wonder. Jack is so keen on her that he takes her to his secret cabin by the lake - the one where he keeps books about ancient Rome and a collection of vintage vinyl certain to impress (Blue Oyster Cult, Duran Duran).
At a certain point in all this, Morgan Freeman shows up, smoking cigars and leading a pack of rebels who look like extras from Mad Max. There is a silly, Flash Gordon-style shootout deep in the bowels of the Earth, involving drones and Scavengers, Jack and Julia.
And Melissa Leo is watching over everything from her command center somewhere in the Cloud, checking in with Vika to ask if she and Jack remain "an effective team."
By the end of the film, Leo is beginning to sound suspiciously like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Robotic, and more than a little peeved.