The year is 2077, and weaponized drones zip along the Earth's decimated surface, hunting shadowy, cave-dwelling insurgents. Human technicians on the ground tend to the machines but don't control them; instead, a command center in space instructs where to go and who to kill.
The set-up for the first great, big-budget film about the moral implications of drone warfare? Ha, no. Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion is solely about how good Tom Cruise looks in sunglasses, how awesomely M83's music pairs with CGI cloudscapes, and how fun it can be to recreate the most vivid moments of sci-fi movie history. In other word, it's a movie of appearances—including, maybe more than anything else, the appearance of grappling with something bigger than itself.
The premise seems weighty enough. Earth, we're told in voiceover, has been attacked by aliens called "Scavs," who blew up the moon and lured humanity into nuclear warfare. Mankind prevailed at the cost of the globe's habitability, so civilization headed skyward, leaving behind a skeleton crew to maintain giant water harvesters—as well as drones to fight off the few surviving Scavs. Cruise plays Jack Harper, a maintenance guy who got his memory wiped but retains a hokey, Cruise-ian patriotism. Early on, in perhaps the film's most awful scene, he stands in the ruins of football stadium and over-revently narrates the Big Game that happened there 70 years earlier so that it sounds like every big game before it: "Seconds left on the clock... the QB throws a hail mary... Touchdown!."