In the future, after a war that has left Earth a desolate wasteland and the survivors living on a space-station somewhere near Saturn, two humans (Tom Cruise's Jack and Andrea Riseborough's Victoria) are in charge of maintaining the hydro-electric machines that provide energy for the rest of their species, defending them from the last vestiges of the alien threat known as Scavs.

However, Jack is plagued by dreams of New York before the war, before he was even born, and a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) and he begins to discover that perhaps all is not as it seems.

Joseph Kosinski made his directorial debut with Tron: Legacy, the dreary sequel to the 80s cult film, much like the original Tron where that film succeeded was in its strong visual sensibility and overwhelming, electronic score. Where it failed was in having uninvolving characters, serving mainly to exposit a plot that lacked any real incident and what twists that were encountered lacked surprise and weight.

Exactly the same can be said of this new film, which, perhaps if you are oblivious to all sci-fi cinema of the past 40 years, you might find some surprises in.  Kosinski mashes together ideas from a handful of sci-fi films both popular, cult and critically acclaimed and plays out their various beats in stilted, workmanlike fashion.  Barely a single character gets to make an impression beyond their functional role within the film's narrative, only Riseborough manages to commendably shoehorn in some emotional complexity at one fleeting stage, but you almost think this was done off her own back without the filmmakers noticing.

However, the film is a step-up from Kosinski's previous effort, primarily in the world he has created.  To begin with the film is quite watchable, as Cruise plods around post-apocalyptic Earth fixing drones, the use of digitially augmented real locations gives the film a pleasingly authentic feel.  There's even some tension with the sleek, heavily armed drone units having a slightly nervous personality.  However, all this quickly dissipates, because even if you haven't seen the trailers it's pretty obvious where the film is headed.

The best sci-fi, including all those that Kosinski (who came up with the film's story) borrows from, uses its conceit to ask bigger questions or explore human emotions in unique ways.  Oblivion's largest failing is that it's far too straightforward in its intentions, and when, in its final act, it has an opportunity to go beyond that which we've been party to so far in the film, it instead is content to just colour by numbers.

Ultimately what is commendable about Oblivion are the things that shouldn't have to have attention drawn to them, things like it uses real locations, its special effects are there to serve the story, it's not in 3D, it's an "original" story and not the first part of a potential franchise, so in that respect it gets a mildly patronising pat on the back.  Because of all this though I hope it does well, because perhaps it'd give Hollywood the confidence to back some bigger, more interesting and imaginative, pictures in the future.