Æon Flux

| December 12, 2005

It’s a sad state of affairs in Hollywood when twenty-minute made for television cartoons are more elaborate and interesting than their 90-minute live-action counterparts. So let’s call it a bad idea: a live-action adaptation of an oddball, stylized cartoon that took full advantage of the medium. The cartoon followed a rail-thin assassin, every striated muscle rippling in her leather gear, as she kicked, shot, gouged, and died through dozens of episodes. There was leather and bloodshed and death, but the main theme seemed to be full-throttle desire slaked only by sex and mutilation. Cool gadgets, hip ultra-violence, interesting storylines–the cartoon was a meteor of fetishistic delight.
Too bad someone decided to deliver a big-screen adaptation–another swollen corpse in the crowded “chicks with guns kicking ass” slaughterhouse. It’s rotten, terrible, incoherent, sloppy, foolish, misguided, asinine and worst of all boring. Reviewing it is an exercise in Sisyphusian pointlessness. But I shall proceed.
The year is 2415, and the last denizens on earth live in the only city left: Bregna. Bregna is clean and efficient, but there’s something rotten in paradise. People disappear, an overwhelming sense of sadness permeates everyone’s lives, and an inner circle of elites–led by inventor Trevor Goodchild and his brother Orin–operate an invisible government that rules with an iron fist. Worst of all, the denizens of Bregna walk around in strange outfits straight out of a bad Star Trek episode: inexplicable patches, discomfiting flashes of skin, silly boots, little ruffles on the collar, skin-tight madness. One day amongst the hordes of Bregnans and anyone would break into tears.
A group of freedom fighters (or terrorists, depending on your point of view) named “Monicans” fight against the oppressive Goodchild regime (“oppressive” here meaning safe streets, regulated businesses, and the elimination of societal problems) in “the name of the disappeared.” The Monicans are led by Frances McDormand, sporting wild orange hair and looking like a flaming fairy godmother. I suppose she was picked to add an element of class but an actress of her caliber should have known better.
Enter Aeon, a fashionable assassin in the employ of the Monicans. At the movie’s beginning she’s a willing fighter in the ongoing war against the Goodchilds, but when her sister is killed by Bregna police, Aeon tosses her morality to the side and becomes a soulless, amoral killer. Which makes Charlize Theron’s take on the character hard to explain, playing Aeon as a slightly confused, conflicted killer; in the show, she was a cocksure, confident minx. The latter works; the former doesn’t.
Charlize Theron turns out to be a miserable choice. Her lines are flat and she moves like a prom queen the day after the big dance. She’s slow and affected and uncomfortable. People tell me she can act but I’m unconvinced. I accept Uma Thurman as a killing machine, as well as Angela Bassett, Angelina Jolie (up to a point), and Natasha Henstridge. Charlize should stick to middle-brow dramas and leave the killing time to her more physical contemporaries.
Aeon is sent into the Goodchild stronghold, her mission to kill Trevor and end the tyranny once and for all. She is accompanied by Sithandra, another assassin who has hands for feet. Goodchild works in a compound surrounded by a garden of deathly plants, the first of many non-sequiturs. Blades of grass are razor sharp. Beehives shoot vials of poison like machine gun turrets.
The director obviously finds the juxtaposition of nature and technology interesting, but lacks the ability to sew this into the story. So killer grass and deadly beehives, oh my. The rounded sets and Frank Gehry-style architecture are a study in gaudy east-meets-west fusion design, cluttered backdrops and way too many vertical lines. The gender roles are overturned. Men are weak, weepy scientists and it’s the women who kick ass. Women run the rebellion; men run the show. The whole endeavor bristles with all the slick vacuity of an Andy Warhol painting with none of the satire or verve.
Aeon braves the compound walls, kills a few guards for good measure, then finds Trevor Goodchild right where she expected. But just as she’s about to pull the trigger and free Bregna from the centuries of peace and relative prosperity, she hesitates and is captured. It turns out she and Trevor know each other, although she can’t remember from where.
The story flips and flops from there. She’s captured, she escapes. She fights her former allies. She branches out on her own. She begins to unravel the mystery of Bregna and the reason why the perfect society is slowly going insane. As the movie progresses, the detritus of back story, the utter banality of predictable plot twists, a preachy moralizing undercurrent, consistently bad filmmaking choices, and tremendously bad acting choke the life out of poor Aeon Flux. The shoddy camerawork vacillates between rushed handhelds that obstruct viewing and silly slow motion balderdash. And it all amounts to a flat, boring film bleached of any danger. The sadism of the cartoon is gone. The illicit sex has been sublimated. It’s all a lesson in how not to make a film. Why act? Why fake a plot? Just pile the bodies up in a glistening heap and tap dance on the rotting skulls. Toss the bad guys in the threshing machine and bump a hip soundtrack over the gurgling noises. Do anything but wallow in the same old song and dance. We have been here before and no one liked it much the first time. Roger Corman could have made this film on a fraction of the budget. He, at least, would have entertained.
The final straw in this silly little movie’s damnation is the political pap pegged on at the end, an attempt to the make the film relevant or topical that misses the mark. The Matthew Arnold streak of fatalism runs at odds with the upbeat tenor of the ending. The intimations at larger intrigues amount to nothing. No, it’s another dame with a gun, killing her way through hordes of faceless, helmeted men. Fine, but someone, somewhere, forgot that movies like this are supposed to be fun.
A colossal waste of time.

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