In 2077, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) remain on Earth. Sixty years ago, an alien race called Scavengers destroyed the moon and invaded Earth. The humans defeated them, but the planet is largely uninhabitable. Most humans have relocated to a colony on Titan. But a few remain on an abandoned Earth to service the combat drones that mop up the remaining aliens. Jack is Tech 49 and Victoria (or Vika) is his commanding officer. On board the Tet space station, Sally (Melissa Leo) is in charge.
Looking for a drone in the New York Public Library, Jack comes close to being ambushed by Scavengers. He is saved by Drone Number 166. A Hydrorig fusion generator is destroyed, and he discovers that the Scavengers are using the antenna atop the Empire State Building to send messages into outer space, so he destroys it. Then he visits his secret forest cabin filled with mementos of the old life on Earth. Something crash-lands and, though Sally tells him to leave it for the drones, he investigates and finds five humans in stasis chambers. One of them looks like the woman who appears in his dreams. Drones arrive to kill the humans, but he takes the woman home. He and Vika revive her and learn she is Julia.
Jack and Julia return to the crash site and find the flight recorder of the Odyssey from before the war. But they are captured by Scavengers and taken to the Raven Rock Mountain Complex. Their leader, Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman), reveals that the Scavengers are in fact humans hiding from the drones. Jack and Julia are sent to the radiation zone to learn more. Julia reveals that she is Jack’s wife, and his memories begin to return. Vika sends a ship to retrieve them but is heartbroken. She alerts Sally, who sends a drone that kills Vika and tries to kill Jack. Jack and Julia escape and destroy the drones chasing them but have to eject. Another Tech (52 his number) comes to repair the drones and it is a clone of Jack.
Jack shuts him down, but Julia is shot and he returns to the base for medical supplies, tricking a clone of Vika into believing he is the other Jack. Are you with me? He returns home with Julia and they re-consummate their marriage. Can’t have an adventure flick without a love scene. They return to the Scavenger base and Beech explains that the Tet is an AI. It destroyed the moon and invaded Earth with drones and clones. There was no human victory or escape to Titan. Jack reprograms a captured drone to sabotage the Tet, but more drones attack. Beech is injured.
Jack volunteers to deliver Julia to the Tet in a plan to infiltrate and destroy them. He learns that he is a clone of the commander of the Titan mission. The original Vika was his co-pilot, Julia a crew member, and Sally their mission director on Earth. The ship was diverted to investigate the Tet, the sleep module containing Julia and the hibernating crew jettisoned to return to Earth, Jack and Vika captured and cloned. Now, Jack enters the Tet and finds thousands of clones of himself and Vika in stasis. When he opens the stasis chamber, the injured Beech is inside instead of Julia. Together, they set off the bomb that destroys the Tet.
On Earth, Julia awakens to find herself at Jack’s secret cabin. She sees the explosion in the sky and knows that Jack 49 had sacrificed himself for her. Three years later, she has given birth to their daughter. They meet the surviving resistance, including Jack 52, who has Jack’s original memories, including his love for Julia.
The film was co-produced and directed by Joseph Kosinski and produced by Peter Chernin, from a screenplay by Karl Gajdusek and Michael de Bruyn, based on an unpublished graphic novel by Kosinski himself. It received mixed reviews from critics, who basically admitted it was a gorgeous piece of work but a bit too ambitious. Of course, one of the reasons we watch SF in the first place is to see something impressive and beautiful. David Edelstein of National Public Radio admitted he was confused by the movie and called it incoherent. He had to go to Wikipedia to understand the story. Much of the film was shot in Iceland, with 24 hours of daylight, because Kosinski was tired of seeing dark, brooding movies.
The bubble ship Jack uses was based on the Bell 47 helicopter and was partly designed by Tom Cruise, who is a pilot. The stairway in the house where the clones live is a double helix. The Universal Studios logo in the opening shows a seriously damaged Earth. Tom Cruise really likes these everything-you-know-is-wrong stories, whether it’s Mission Impossible or science-fiction. Of course, half of SF (and all of Phillip K. Dick) is that kind of story. The first such book I ever read, at the age of 12, was The Star Seekers, which can be summed up as, “This is not the world, it’s a ship and it’s going to crash.” What an original idea, I thought. Now we don’t believe anything we hear, unless it’s on our favorite website, of course.