"WE'RE THE MOP-UP CREW," Jack (Tom Cruise) explains. A war with aliens known as the Scavs has turned Earth into a wasteland: a broken moon hangs in the night sky, and earthquakes have turned even our biggest cities into stretches of desolate tundra, marked only by the occasional ruin of a Brooklyn Bridge or Empire State Building. It's a surreal, lonely landscape—most of humanity has gone to live on Saturn's moon Titan—and it's up to Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) to maintain the machines that collect the last of Earth's natural resources. But in between his shootouts with remaining Scavs, Jack senses there's something more—suspicions that're confirmed when he finds a mysterious escape pod containing the even more mysterious Julia (Olga Kurylenko).
Oblivion's worth seeing on the biggest screen you can find for its visuals alone: Much like director Joseph Kosinski's last film—the beautiful, excruciatingly dull Tron: Legacy—Oblivion is, if nothing else, a hell of a thing to see and hear. And just as Kosinksi used Daft Punk to punch up Tron, here he turns to an original score from M83 to provide a swelling soul for his striking visuals and emotional beats.
Because yeah! Unlike Tron, Oblivion has some emotional beats—and, at least when graded against most multiplex offerings, a good amount of brains, too. At first, Oblivion just kind of sits there, a hodgepodge of borrowed elements from Wall-E, Planet of the Apes, Moon, The Matrix, Portal, and Mass Effect. (Thanks to a slick dogfight, there's even some Top Gun.) But give it a bit of time. Turns out Kosinski's making something pretty interesting with this pastiche; just as Jack suspects, there's a twist or two, but it turns out there are a few more surprises as well.
I don't mean to raise expectations too high: Oblivion isn't holy-shit amazing, and it's not the smartest movie out there (or even the smartest movie out this week). But it's exciting, it's clever, and it's gorgeous to look at. And if he keeps it up, Kosinski's next film might very well be a thing that is holy-shit amazing.