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The most interesting thing about Oblivion, if you ask me, is the release pattern: By the time it opens in North American this weekend, it will already have been seen just about everywhere in the world except Japan, which doesn’t get it until May 31.

I assume there’s some reason for this, but I have no idea what it is. Which was my reaction to a lot of this $120 million movie. It looks spectacular—money can’t buy everything, but it can buy really cool-looking visuals—but the story seems to operate on the premise that if you withhold or obfuscate some of the plot details, it will seem “deeper” than it really is.

The general thrust seems clear right from the beginning, as Jack Harper, not to be confused with Jack Reacher even though they’re both Tom Cruise, narrates the background. It’s the year 2077, an alien attack has been repulsed but left the planet uninhabitable, the survivors have moved to a moon of Jupiter while Jack monitors clones mining the last of the Earth’s energy resources. He lives in minimalist futurist splendor with his “assigned” wife (Andrea Riseborough), and everything is swell aside from those pesky dreams that feel more like memories.

Gotcha. So are we seeing a reboot of The Matrix or Total Recall? Obviously things aren’t what they seem to be, but having laid his hints, writer-director Joseph Kosinski (Tron Legacy) is in no hurry to mine them, spending most of the next hour trotting out scenes of a ruined planet that are inarguably nifty to look at. (Best is the shattered moon.) More allusions to Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and others arise, either to trip up our plot expectations or possibly just as the director’s way to try to outdo his predecessors. A soundtrack of endlessly rampaging synthesizers battle to make the whole thing seem Very Very Important, possibly to compensate for some muddled dialogue that does just the opposite. (When Morgan Freeman, in the Laurence Fishburne role, tells Harper about seeing millions of him, it’s unclear whether he means millions like him or an army of clones.)

Make of it what you will. Despite all the expensive digital displays, I was amused at a scene where Cruise has a fistfight with a copy of himself in which you never see both of their faces at the same time, to disguise the fact that one is a stunt double. It was nice to see that there’s at least one thing that can’t be digitally faked.

Watch the trailer for Oblivion

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