Oblivion is a science fiction film starring Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, and Morgan Freeman. Tom Cruise is the young adventurer with a secret. Andrea Risenborough is the woman who loves him but can’t have him. Olga Kurylenko is the woman Cruise really goes for. Morgan Freeman is the “magic negro” who provides redemption.
The plot is a standard alien invasion story with the almost-cliche’d the-goods-guys-are-the-bad-guys flip. It’s 60 years after the Borg, er Cylons, er evil robot aliens attack earth. According to the introduction, the earthies win, but earth is destroyed in the process. Humans have to leave the earth and move to Titan. Tom Cruise and Andrea Risenborough are technicians assigned to earth to keep robotic plants working that are extracting the remaining planetary resources to support the colony. They are being directed through a large tetrahedral mother ship in orbit. The extraction is being hampered by remnants of the alien force stuck on earth.
When a human escape pod comes crashing to earth after flitting around the solar system for 60 years, Cruise is surprised when his handlers rush out to destroy the survivors. Cruise interferes and saves one of the people in the pod (Kurylenko). Cruise ends up finding out that, in fact, the remants are human, the evil robot aliens are running the mother ship, and he’s been memory-wiped. Kurylenko is really his wife, and had escaped the ship that Cruise had been piloting when the evil robots attacked. Cruise and his co-pilot Risenborough had been captured and cloned. When Cruise finds out, he sides with the humans, who have jerry-rigged a nuclear weapon. The evil robot aliens kill Risenborough and send out two new clones of Cruise and Risenborough to pick up the ball. Cruise beats up his clone and steals his aircraft.
The humans had captured a small drone which they hoped to use to deliver the payload, but this is lost in a battle, so Cruise pretends to be his replacement flies the captured aircraft to the mother ship to deliver Kurylenko. Instead, Freeman has taken her place and they act as suicide bombers to deliver the nuclear weapon, destroying the mother ship. Kurylenko survives and lives with the remaining Cruise clone in a cute primitive cabin by a lake. The Cruise clone is apparently close enough to the original for government work. Also, apparently, the aliens only have one ship so blowing it up takes care of everything.
So, it’s Independence Day meets the Matrix. The special effects are OK. The actors do journeyman work. The twist is a big surprise only for those who are unfamiliar with the genre. My wife, who does not particularly like science fiction, got the clone thing well before the big reveal.
There are two problems with the movie that made it problematic for me. The first was that it was a bit pretentious — it kept acting like it had something important to say, but it really didn’t. Science fiction is best when it uses the future to provide insights into the human condition — relationships, fundamental beliefs, social assumptions, etc. This did not. It is second best when it is clean fun escapism; if there are enough explosions, fun rides, or scantily-clad women in metal bikinis kept on a leash by giant slugs, it doesn’t matter if the movie hinges on the assumption that the Terminator runs on Apple II assembler, or, as in Independence Day, the alien space ship runs Microsoft Windows and has free WiFi. This ain’t that, either. It just kept plodding along.
The second problem is that it basically an anti-science movie, a bit like avatar. I can live with that, the ecological dystopias of the 1960s and 1970s were OK. But it’s fundamentally self-contradictory to have a high-tech movie that praises technology while hating it. And that’s what this is. It’s essentially an anti-modern, anti-technology movie.
The fundamental story is that amoral, high-technology cultures use technological superiority to oppress and exploit technologically-backwards aborigines who have only their moral superiority. The best way to deal with that disparity is through suicide bombing, which will, by one symbolic act, reverse everything.
I guess that’s just not a message I find appealing three days after the Boston bombing.