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Movies for Grownups

Movie Review + Trailer: 'Oblivion'

Tom Cruise steps back from the brink and saves the world with class

Rating: PG-13      Running Time: 126 minutes

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo     Director: Joseph Kosinski

Too bad Oblivion wasn't made 50 or 60 years ago. Tom Cruise's new sci-fi epic is ideal for the kind of breathless movie poster jargon that immortalized classics like It Came From Outer Space and The Thing.

  • Wonder! At Our World in Ruins!

  • Cheer! For the Man Who Can Destroy an Army of Alien Invaders!

  • Scream! At the Attack of the Killer Drones!

  • Marvel! At the Majesty of a Space Station 100 Miles Long!

  • Swoon! As a Man Chooses Between the Two Beautiful Women Who Love Him!

And of course we'd see an image of Cruise, all 6-feet-5 of him, carrying the limp body of a daintily dressed damsel, an exploding moon visible over his left shoulder.

But in an age of $8 popcorn tubs, Oblivion has to deliver something more than mere high-end matinee fodder, and that it does.

The opening Cruise voiceover sets the scene: Aliens destroyed Earth's moon, throwing the planet's tidal and weather systems into chaos. Then came an invasion that the Earthlings somehow repelled, but the planet was so devastated that all the survivors had to leave for Titan, a moon of Jupiter, which is being terraformed to support human life.

Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise in Oblivion

Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko pursue space aliens in "Oblivion." — Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

Cruise plays Jack, who along with his lovely female companion (Andrea Riseborough) lives in a kind of super-penthouse above Earth's clouds. He trudges off to work each day maintaining the drones that protect the enormous machines that are sucking the water from Earth's oceans and sending it (somehow) off to Titan. They need protection because, we're told, residual members of the alien assault force are skittering around Earth sabotaging the water-suckers (the movie has a more technical name for the machines, but I call them water-suckers).

Naturally, things are not what they seem, and before long Jack starts wondering who really won that war. But along the way we get to see, with him, the wonders of a devastated Earth, which consists mostly of New York City landmarks rendered to ruins. And it's not just the buildings that are familiar — pretty soon we begin ticking off, with alarming regularity, the other films from which writer-director Joseph Kosinski cribs, sometimes with gleeful abandon.

Here's a handy list you can take with you. You'll find both visual images and key plot points lifted directly from, among other movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey; Mad Max; Independence Day; Star Wars; I Am Legend; The Day After Tomorrow; On the Beach; Cloverfield; Planet of the Apes; and, most egregiously, Duncan Jones' mind-bending indie flick, Moon.

Hey, when you steal, steal from the best. On that count, Oblivion may be guilty of grand theft, but it's one classy criminal.

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