Tom, Morgan and drones make for a post-apocalyptic adventure in ‘Oblivion’

From Jack Reacher to Jack Harper, Tom Cruise is still going strong in presenting characters who try to maintain balance in a troubled world. In “Oblivion” he is the latter Jack — Harper — and the world he lives in is a real mess.

“Oblivion” is a visual stunner and a crowd-pleaser for the most part despite enough plot holes to keep the nit-pickers busy. Cruise is in his element here as Harper, who has a bit of “Top Gun’s” Maverick in him — confident and can summon cockiness when needed.

Harper does modestly refer to himself as part of a mop-up crew on a futuristic Earth that has been rendered mostly uninhabitable — not my mankind’s carelessness but by an invasion from outer space. Yep, we have the hostile E.T. vein of the sci-fi genre.

The aliens, referred to as Scavs, delivered a blow by destroying the moon, which triggered all kinds of natural havoc. War ensued and eventually the earthlings had no choice but to set off the nukes.

So now the Earth is mostly a wasteland. Almost all humans have been evacuated to a monstrous space station called Tet, where they wait for transportation to the Saturn moon Titan. In the meantime, whatever resources left on Earth are been gathered by huge machines while drones patrol the planet, scoping out supposed Scavs who still think a war is going on.

Harper resides in a nice facility in the clouds with his “teammate” Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They live, eat and sleep together, and by day Victoria monitors Jack as he cruises around in an aircraft that appears to be a hybrid — part helicopter, part jet. He tracks down drones that have crashed and repairs them. Victoria spends time communicating with Sally (Melissa Leo), who is in charge up in the Tet, supervising with a smile and Southern accent.

With their mission almost done, Jack and Victoria soon will be en route to Titan.

For whatever reasons, the memories of Jack and Victoria have been erased but Jack has a recurring dream wherein he is in the observation platform of the Empire State Building and having some kind of sweet encounter with a young woman (Olga Kurylenko), Also, Jack does not share Victoria’s enthusiasm for leaving Earth. On his missions he likes to go off the grid and find solace in a lakeside oasis — a rundown home but peaceful — listening to 1960s rock on vinyl records.

It is during one of these breaks that he witnesses a space craft plummeting to Earth as if shot down. He goes to the crash scene and finds the crew members actually are in a hibernated state in pods, and one of the people looks like the woman of his dreams.

The drones, seemingly confused, attack the scene but Jack manages to rescue the woman and take her back to his station. She turns out to be Julia and insists they go back to the crash scene and get the flight recorder. It is during this mission that Jack and Julia are captured by supposed Scavs.

The Scavs actually are surviving humans living pretty much underground and led by Beech (Morgan Freeman), who tells Jack things are not what they seem and seeks Jack’s assistance in setting things right. He even sets Jack free to see for himself what is really going on.

Once Jack goes into investigative mode, things start clearing up in his mind.

Director and co-writer Joseph Kosinski chose his shooting locations well, presenting several different conditions of Earth from barren lands to majestic snow-capped mountains to lush, thick vegetation. But best of all, he and his production crew created wonderful drones that almost have personalities and a surface structure that makes them look very serious about their business — almost scowling, with unblinking eyes.

Cruise’s Jack Harper meshes well with the ladies. While he sometimes grows wistful about Earth and a possible rejuvenation of the planet, Riseborough’s Victoria remains focused on the mission, keeping him on track. After hours she lowers her guard and becomes a cool life partner. Kurylenko’s Julia has to unfold slowly as the mystery woman who unlocks a lot of secrets.

“Oblivion” falls short of being a classic science-fiction movie, as it recycles a lot of features from earlier films. But it is Cruise at his best, surrounded by a small but capable cast. You can’t go wrong when you have Morgan Freeman also in the show.

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