Cruise's cool Space Odyssey

Tom Cruise is officially cool again.

In 2011's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, he scaled Dubai's Burj Khalifa. And in last year's Reacher, he starred as the title character in an old-school thriller based on British author Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.

Now, Cruise plays Jack Harper, who roams a post-apocalyptic Earth that's been ravaged by aliens. There's a lot of buzz surrounding the movie - Cruise's reported attempts to date his co-star, the sleek Olga Kurylenko, the Ukrainian-born French actress and Bond Girl from Quantum Of Solace (2008); his donning of an apron to help roll dumplings under the watchful eyes of Mr Yang Chi-hua, the proprietor of Din Tai Fung in Taiwan, in a promotional event.

To add to the hype and raised expectations, the film's distributor also asked that reviewers not divulge spoilers and its ending. (Don't worry, guys, I'm playing by the rules.)

So, is it worth watching? Well, it has its good points.

Despite a slow start, the film hooks the audience's interest with flashy gadgetry - like Jack's fancy flying machine that allows Cruise to play pilot with Top Gun swagger - and gradually draws viewers deeper into its setting and story.

Directed and co-written by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy), we get the update on our planet, via a voiceover from Jack. Decades earlier, Earth had to deploy nuclear weapons to fend off alien invasion, resulting in damage and contamination of most of the planet.

It is against this post-apocalyptic backdrop (circa 2077) that we see Jack and his lover/work partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), remaining behind on Earth as a specialised mop-up crew, after the evacuation of human survivors.

Jack pilots his Bubbleship to locate and repair unmanned drones that help to battle alien beings known as "scavengers", while Victoria mans the command centre set up in their futuristic residence called the Skytower, perched high above Earth's surface.

Just two weeks before the mission ends, Jack investigates a crash site and rescues a spacecraft passenger, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), whom he recognises as someone popping up regularly in his dreams of late. This event sparks off a chain of other events that turn the regimented world of Jack and Victoria topsy-turvy.

Of course, with the mystery surrounding the story, it's great fun absorbing every detail, as the story unfolds, and to stay one step ahead of plot points. At the same time, one can try to figure out how roles played by other cast members, like Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo, fit in.

The production value here is consistently high - from the Skytower's sleek design, complete with transparent-walled lap pool, to panoramic "wasteland" landscapes best appreciated on an IMAX screen.

Acting-wise, Jack's heroic figure suits Cruise to a tee, while Riseborough plays her role memorably with a twinge of uneasiness beneath her collected demeanour. By comparison, Kurylenko's performance seems a little raw.

As Cruise's onscreen love interest, she certainly comes across as compatible - though the film doesn't create many opportunities for their chemistry to be explored more thoroughly.

The film is, overall, entertaining and engrossing, and has many good points in its favour. Its story is well told, with pleasant surprises along the way. But is it a post-apocalyptic/ dystopian sci-fi classic, worthy to be filed alongside Total Recall (1990), Dark City (1998) and The Matrix (1999)? Maybe not.

As a love story, Oblivion isn't intense enough, and as a sci-fi film, it doesn't provoke as much thought. The film feels like it takes inspiration from all the aforementioned classics, instead of coming across as truly original and groundbreaking.


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