The chief problem with this film is also its key feature: it’s a scifi mystery where the main characters aren’t aware of what’s going on any more than the viewer. While that makes for an intriguing story as we seek out answers, it also can be slow-moving and frustrating, as we don’t understand what we’re seeing.
Another problem common with this kind of story is that the big reveal, when unveiled, must match our expectations. The explanation is weak or predictable, the movie fails.
Fortunately, on this latter point, the film worked for me. Few explicit details are given for either storyline, which is actually a good thing, leaving some ambiguity for us to process.
The surface story is simple enough: aliens destroyed the moon, which wreaked havoc on earth, causing earthquakes and massive destruction, effectively ending the human race. Humans fought back using nuclear weapons, winning the war, but further harming the planet. The few survivors have fled to Titan (Jupiter’s largest moon). Energy and water is harnessed from the earth’s oceans by giant automated machines guarded by automated drone weapons, which protect the equipment from sabotage by “Scavs,” the handful of remaining aliens on earth. Our main characters, Jack and Victoria, live in a floating cloud-house and maintain the drones and keep everything in working order. The two have had their memories wiped (for security reasons) and are nearing the end of their five-year shift.
We sense something different is going on when Jack has strange dreams of being on the Empire State Building with a woman — memories he couldn’t possibly have as New York City was destroyed sixty years earlier, long before he was born.
Fortunately, the explanation, when it comes, does make sense. It’s a little gimmicky as all such “twist” stories are, but it does work and is satisfying. However, the first half of the film is frustrating, because you keep seeing flaws that you aren’t sure are flaws because you realize you don’t know what’s really going on. So much doesn’t make sense and seems off, but you let it go, hoping that the eventual explanation will make everything work.
There still are a few flaws that are never properly explained. Some you can figure out on your own, but others are genuine mistakes. But oddly, even the stuff that does get explained well, still leaves a nagging sensation behind. Things make sense when you think about it, but emotionally you feel uncomfortable.
(A perfect example is the Mission Control woman on the space station that Victoria regularly communicates with: she’s very odd, somehow simultaneously overly friendly and intimidating, and when we understand the reality of the situation her character does make sense, but it still feels wrong.)
All that said, I liked the film. It’s gimmicky and manipulative, but done in a way that’s entertaining. Even stuff happens that there are regular reveals as the mystery is uncovered. The scenery is awesome, with fun visuals of a ravaged earth and broken moon. All the performances are excellent, with real heart and emotion, and you actually care about the characters. It’s not a perfect film, but definitely fun and worth seeing if you’re into scifi. (I liken it last year’s flawed-but-interesting Prometheus.