For all of its grandiose ambitions, Annihilation, writer/director Alex Garland’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to his celebrated 2015 film Ex Machina is more than a bit on the derivative side of things. How much of this is the film’s fault I cannot say but coming on the heels of such recent similar fare as Arrival and Life, comparisons are certain to be made. Suffice it to say that Garland’s directorial flourishes lend a bit of much needed gravitas to things but it isn’t enough to override the pervasive feeling of ‘been there, done that’ that hangs over the proceedings. At any rate, it’s clear that Garland is attempting to tap the intellectual/cerebral vein. Sadly, he comes up short in a film that’s really not able to generate more than what’s on the surface, which is to say standard sci-fi thrills that are found in any movie where the antagonists are in the presence of an alien life force.

One of the problems in Annihilation is an under development of the characters. The closest we come to really getting to know anything about the people that inhabit this world comes in the form of the backstory of Lena, played by Natalie Portman. Lena is a medical school professor who’s in the processing of grieving over her military careerist husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). Having been missing for a year, Kane is considered dead. That is until he shows up unexpectedly, zombie style, and suffering from some sort of vague sickness. Lena’s feelings for her husband color much of what comes later in the film.

Lena comes to learn that Kane penetrated something referred to as ‘The Shimmer,’ which is a basically a rainbow colored fog that has enshrouded a nature preserve near the ocean. Due to her personal connection to the mystery, Lena is asked by a military officer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to join an  exploring expedition, along with several other women who are all going through vaguely defined personal crises of various sorts. Of course, being that this is an alien life force that can take various forms via its gene splicing capabilities, the women have their work cut out for them.

As previously mentioned Annihilation looks great and has all of the components one might assume would tend toward a good film. Unfortunately, there’s just something missing and it never manages to grab your interest the way that Garland’s previous film did. It leaves one to wonder what Garland thought he could add to the genre with a story that’s been told so many times before. That’s one mystery that can’t be solved so easily.

This movie playing in Hickory as of Friday this week.

Image: Natalie Portman in Annihilation

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