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As compelling as they can sometimes be, the lavish visuals and confounding narratives of Asian anime often prove a basic filmmaking truth: Without a good story and sympathetic characters, a movie is just something to look at. Moon Sang Kim’s Sky Blue, South Korea’s first big-budget animated film, is a case in point. Set in yet another post-apocalyptic wasteland—though this particular Armageddon is the result of pollution rather than nuclear warfare—the movie revolves around Ecoban, the last inhabitable city on Earth. The elite reside within the city walls, while workers, called “Diggers,” live in the harsh environs outside, endlessly toiling to supply Ecoban’s energy. Naturally, there’s a revolution brewing, with the Diggers planning to equalize the classes by destroying Ecoban’s pollution-causing power system. Anyone who’s surprised that the insurgents’ handsome leader and a high-ranking, candy-haired Ecoban officer were once childhood friends who will have to choose between love and duty hasn’t seen a lot of anime (or, for that matter, soap operas). And anyone who has seen a lot of anime will know that Sky Blue is hardly the first socially committed, environmentally themed cartoon to come along: Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki covered these themes with far greater emotional depth in two of his films, Princess Mononoké and Nausicaä. Still, Kim’s movie does provide some astonishing visuals with its near-seamless blend of traditional cel animation, CGI, and live-action miniatures, but the beautifully rendered cast of characters is developed through little more than pensive glances and slow-motion montages. Kim previously co-wrote the screenplay for the blockbuster Korean comedy My Wife Is a Gangster, but even that film’s jokey stereotypes were more, ahem, three-dimensional than the leads here. And the fact that the Sky Blue currently screening in Washington is the English-dubbed version doesn’t help: Just because exchanges such as “I didn’t expect you to come back”/“We’re both full of surprises, aren’t we?” are uttered by the likes of An American Werewolf in London vet David Naughton doesn’t make them any less clunky. Visually stunning but narratively unfulfilling, Sky Blue is as big, beautiful, and empty as its namesake.—Jason Powell