Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tom vs Tom, Jack vs Jack

Oblivion, 2013, Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) -- cinema
Jack Reacher, 2012, Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun) -- download

A lot of people dislike Tom Cruise, but do they hate crazy dance-on-a-sofa Tom Cruise? Hate Scientologist Tom Cruise who took the sweetheart from Dawson's Creek and implanted her with his alien symbiote?  Or is it his one-note heroes, all confident smiles and set jaws? I think it is those exactly one-note heroes that makes him so good in so many of his roles, where he saves the girl or saves the planet or at least saves someone.  Where he is the effective man, in control and very good at what he does.  Skip the man of Scientology and see the hero who fits into the roles that make women swoon.

Jack Harper is a soldier on post-apocalypse Earth, likely the last capable man on the planet.  He and his equally effective team mate live in a shiny-glossy-clean penthouse tower overseeing the defence of big machines sucking the remaining oceans to be made into hydrogen that will fuel the ships heading to Titan with the rest of humanity.  You see, we lost the war.  Technically, we won the war, beating the invading aliens who broke the moon, but in doing so we lost the planet.  So  the mostly irradiated, wrecked ball of (eerily beautiful) mud and scraps is abandoned. A few alien scavs are left behind causing trouble for the ocean suckers so Jack and Vica monitor and repair the combat drones, and their lovely baritone bassoon voices, that defend the ocean suckers.  Soon they will be done their tour and will join others on the big tetrahedron satellite, to prepare for the journey to Titan.

The setup for this movie is absolutely lovely.  The wide, open spaces that Jack surveys in his almost-dragonfly flying ship, the wrecked canyons of old cities with their waterfalls and ice crevasses, are just enthralling, supported by ethereal M83 music and smooth, grey tones.  Jack likes to get dirty, get down there on the planet and see what he is leaving behind. Vica will not even consider the idea of leaving her pristine, extremely designy bunker.  They are supposed to be an effective team, but she sees Jack pulling away when she feels they should be pulling closer, to ride out their final two weeks. It doesn't help that Jack is dreaming of another woman, a beautiful woman he meets on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  But that doesn't make sense, as that was over 60 years ago, before the planet was wrecked.  And thus the hint that things are not what they seem.

Jack Reacher is the ex-military man hiding in plain site, invisible to the trappings of modern life.  He is recounted as a brilliant investigator for the military police that disappeared after a case went horribly wrong, after an iron clad sniper crime collapsed in a scandal of systemic rape.  Another sniping reaches out from the headlines with one phrase "get Jack Reacher".  This new case is also iron clad, all the evidence at hand, thumbprints and shell casings. But why ask for Jack?  So Jack suddenly appears, also curious.  And again, it all begins to unravel.

Who is Reacher?  That is what everyone, including us, is asking.  He is off the radar, off the grid, hidden in society that relies on credit card statements and cell phone records.  Why?  We never really know but it adds to his mystique as the very effective man.  This role, for Cruise, is all Mary Sue with brilliant deduction, effortless combat and a relentless swooning from every woman in the bloody movie.  I thought it was producer / Cruise intervention but apparently it was present in the novel the movie is based on.  Jack Reacher is a hot capable man.  I admit, Cruise pulls this off for the character has a not-take-advantage aspect that is admirable and focuses his character.  There is something going on and only Reacher seems to actually care and to be capable of pulling the details together.  This is prime pulp crime book fiction.

Oblivion has been compared to Wall-E, unimaginatively because it is about a lone guy left behind on the wrecked earth to repair things.  But really, if you want to compare the movie to something, try Moon, the Duncan Jones indie scifi movie about a guy doing a three-year stint on the moon, mining and repairing.  Its about longing, and isolation.  It is about style and mood.

The opening act of the movie is all what makes good scifi, a slow burn of setting and story, but I admit to not being as fond as the latter parts, the canyon battles and "this is what we have to do" climax.  Oh, the twist (not Shyamalan twist, but still, a direction I wasn't expecting the story to take) was intriguing but it was not the focus of my after-movie pondering.  I won't spoiler you, you can find that on the rest of the internet.  Or see the movie.

Jack Reacher starts with potential as well, but slides very very quickly into a trope-ridden action conspiracy movie.  It even has a climactic battle in a construction / mine site with automatic weapons and knife combat in the slip, sliding rain.  The villain is villainous and the mooks die quickly.  The effective, enjoyable parts of the movie are about a very, very capable man at the extent of his limitations but knowing he has to do this.  And as mysteriously as he appeared, Reacher wanders out of the movie without getting the girl and not likely getting a sequel, unless Cruise's alien overlords bankroll the next movie.