Saturday, 3 December 2016


Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, and Melissa Leo

Director: Joseph Kosinski

124 minutes (12) 2013
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2 

Rating: 7/10 review by Andrew Darlington

As far as big mainstream post-apocalypse CGI blockbusters go, this is a pretty smart movie. But not quite as smart as it thinks it is. The central gimmick is the familiar Philip K. Dick false-memory thing; the everything-you-think-you-know is a lie syndrome. And Tom Cruise - unhooking his cruise-control mode, confronts the role with genuine gravitas, to salvage it with some dignity. Director Joseph Kosinski (ex-Tron: Legacy, 2010) originally envisaged the plot as a graphic novel, so the visual content is accordingly dramatic.

It’s 14th March 2077, a half-century since the alien Scavengers destroyed the Moon, creating global catastrophe. And Jack Harper, Tech-49 (Cruise), flies his bubble-ship over vast desolations strewn with stranded cargo ships, submarines, and the land-locked Golden Gate Bridge. The Lincoln Monument is skewed at 45 degrees to serve the iconic purpose that the Statue of Liberty did in the original Planet Of The Apes (1968). And there are some striking perspectives of black silhouette figures against the amber cloud-scapes of Harper’s airborne Tower, although the full visual potential of the asteroidal fragments of the shattered Moon is under-realised, as it’s only fleetingly glimpsed in the corner of the sky.

Co-ordinated by on-screen Sally (Melissa Leo) aboard the giant wedge-shaped Tet space fortress, it’s Harper’s task - with his lover-partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), to mop-up stray Scav parties - “we won the war, but lost the planet,” and to protect the huge Hydro-Rigs that convert seawater into fusion energy for a new refuge-colony on Titan. But Harper is troubled by black-and-white memory sequences of New York - and a girl he met beside the Empire State Building viewing platform, before the war, before he was born.

This presents an obvious paradox, complicated further by his five-year memory-wipe that’s mandatory because we “can’t have your precious memories falling into the wrong hands.” Tracking a malfunctioning drone into a sinkhole replete with carpets and chandeliers, he finds a poetry book, Thomas Babington Macaulay’s narrative epic Lays Of Ancient Rome (1842), telling how heroic Horatius held the bridge against the Etruscan army, and ‘how can man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers’. It strikes a chord.

He squirrels the book away in a slim library at his idyllic lakeside cabin hidden by the ‘radiation zones’, where he also keeps his stash of vinyl albums - Duran Duran, Blue Oyster Cult, Exiles On Main Street (1972), and from where the stylus cues into Ramble On from Led Zeppelin II (1969), blasting out from his solar-powered turntable. If the Scavs arrived in 2017, this must still be considered a fashionably retro collection. And maybe the quizzical viewer will wonder; if such pockets of perfection still exist on Earth, why survivors are supposedly in the process of migrating to inhospitable Titan - Saturn’s largest moon and a freezing poisonous world, using the Tet as a staging point? Needless to stay, gum-chewing Harper wishes to stay here, while Victoria wants to leave by the two-week deadline, “we’ve done our job. It’s time to go.” She strengthens her argument with sweet soft-focus aquatic sex in their tower. Does she know more than she lets on?

Straddling his two-wheel speed-bike, his ‘cool’ Ray-Bans also act as part of his memory-prompts. But things begin to go seriously off-kilter when a surface beam triggered by the so-far unseen Scavs directs Harper to the crash-site of NASA deep-spaceship ‘The Odyssey’. Within the delta-sleep life-pods rescued from the wreck is Julia (Olga Kurylenko), the girl from his memory-vision, his wife. As far as big mainstream post-apocalypse CGI blockbusters go, this is a pretty smart movie. But not quite as smart as it thinks it is. And this is the start of the everything-you-think-you-know is a lie unravelling. Victoria is predictably hostile – protesting “we don’t know who she is, or what she is,” before she’s conveniently zapped and killed in a drone-attack.

“You are not who you think you are,” Julia tells him. Before they’re promptly captured by the Scavs, who – beneath their Mad Max style regalia, turn out not to be alien at all, but human survivors led by a wise Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman) who quotes Lays Of Ancient Rome back at him. Harper uses his Top Gun skills in aerial dog-fights with rogue drones coded to his DNA and tasked with chasing him down, with requisite explosions and hazards, he deliberately flies into an electrical storm to confuse them, and then employs the old hiding-behind-the-waterfall ploy. There’s a 'Death Star' canyon pursuit, after which he crash-lands in the rad-wastes to confront - and fight... himself! The real ‘he’ is identifiable only by the cut on the bridge of his nose. Accessing Tech-52’s Tower for a med-kit he finds the dead Victoria alive and well.

He takes Julia to his secret lakeside retreat where the somnolent organ-tones of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale unfurl in unexpected juxtaposition, and she tells him “you always loved this song.” His memory-sequences now come in colour, telling him that the original crew of ‘The Odyssey’ – including Victoria, Harper himself and wife Julia, encountered an alien object – the Tet, while en route for Saturn. The real Sally was the original NASA controller. Taken over, thousands of cloned and memory-wiped versions of Harper were then programmed to mop-up – not predatory aliens, but human survivors after the Moon-smash. There is no Titan colony. The hydro-rigs are sucking the planet dry.

Strike-back time. In a patchwork of mix-match part-theft part-homage images, there are 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) slo-mo spacecraft turning bits. There are Independence Day (1996) moments as Harper with the delta-sleep pod supposedly containing Julia approaches the Tet, and even Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) flashbacks as they navigate within the immense structure, with glimpses of honeycomb-cells of preserved figures. Harper and Victoria clones? It’s as though sci-fi has become less about conceptual shocks and more concerned with re-combinations of reassuringly familiar tropes. Until, like Horatius, Harper holds the bridge alone. Well, except for the subterfuge of Beech, replacing Julia in the stasis-cabinet. “I created you Jack, I am your god,” protests Sally. As they trigger the detonation and destroy the ‘object’.

Three years later, Julia enjoys a hippie back-to-nature lifestyle with Harper’s daughter in the idyllic lakeside cabin, where other survivors gather - joined of course... by another Jack, the memory-restored Tech-52. You can’t kill Tom Cruise for long!

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