Tom Cruise has never looked better than in this sci-fi view of a bleak future for earth, and the planet has never looked worse. But, don’t take this the wrong way. It’s artfully worse.
The credit for what cinematic art can achieve at its CGI best goes to the visual branches of this film crew, from art direction and cinematography to sets and wardrobe design. But, this idea of what earthly devastation can look like is more. It’s a realization of the story concept and a lesson in the relative unimportance of 3-D, at least some of the time.
Cruise doesn’t just look good as Technician #49, a drone repairman aka Jack Harper–this is one of his strongest performances since “Collateral.” Which is not to say he wasn’t good in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” Here, his performance is remarkably disciplined, restrained and explosive under the careful direction of Joseph Kosinsky who has only proven his helmer abilities with one previous credit: “Tron.”
The year is 2077. In 2017, aliens with advanced technology attacked earth, destroyed the moon and left the planet a decimated mess before they were vanquished. But, though humans apparently won the battle, dark, freaky critters known as “Scavs,” short for Scavengers — prowl for humans they can destroy. They’re resistance fighters, giving headaches to the “victors.” The drones are there to detect and destroy.
In Harper’s elevated mansion also resides his partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, “Happy-Go-Lucky”) whose job it is to stay in video contact with commander Sally, aboard the Tet, a huge tetrahedral structure floating in orbit–the place where teams like Jack and Victoria are retired to as long as they dutifully (and effectively) protect the planet’s resources and the extraction machines that feed the off-planet human survivors.
Problems arise when Jack’s memories, something all technicians have been swiped clean of, come back in increasingly vivid flashbacks. Jack, against Tet’s assumptions, has not completely forgotten his prior human life. For a while he tries to keep it secret, well knowing the consequences, but under Tet’s 24/7 microscope, his and Victoria’s destiny, as well as their awareness about the truth of their existence, are about to change–violently.
This is first and foremost designed to provide a platform for Cruise’s physical skills and that’s not at all bad for us action fans who look to him for his incredible athleticism. Co-star Riseborough plays the not-quite-a-real-person person splendidly. Olga Kurylenko as Jack’s dead wife is pure screen candy. And Leo, the Tet officer, is icy in every pore.
This evacuated world imagined from the minds of its creators is spectacular and takes its inspiration from Kosinski’s unpublished graphic novel as edited by Radical Comics. The lack of 3-D may have been a budget decision, but the grip of the story’s psychological tensions and twists, though testing logic, makes it all but unnoticeable. Besides, without 3-d glasses, the colors, which are muted, are more realistically conveyed.