Æon Flux

At some point in the future, most of the human race will be wiped out. The movies have shown me that this is an inevitability. That’s fine, because it’s usually so far in the future that I won’t have to be alive to experience it. Granted, Æon Flux‘s disaster happens in 2011, but it’s easy to forget that since the vast majority of the film occurs in 2415, where the final 5 million people on the planet all live in one city, where the government is evil because governments in science fiction movies are rarely good.

This one didn’t seem that bad to me. Everyone is provided for, there didn’t seem to be any poverty, crime, or other problems, and it was all well-lit, which is important. Sure, the government might be lying to its citizens about the outside world — you can’t leave the walls — and there’s a bit of a lack of freedom, but compared to other future governmental bodies, this one seemed okay. Regardless, there’s a rebel group, the Monicans, and one of its members is our protagonist. Her name is Æon, and she’s played by Charlize Theron.

The rebels hope to overthrow the government and/or learn what secrets have been hidden from the people. Æon gets tasks to perform like “kill this guy,” and takes them without thought. However, when one mission goes wrong, she winds up involved in something much bigger, much more twisty, and ultimately a lot more boring for an audience than the missions she does in the first 30 minutes of the film. Oh, and her sister is killed, so she wants revenge, even without proof that it was the government’s fault.

Part of the problem is that the better action scenes get used up early on, leaving nothing more exciting to hold our interest later. And even the “impressive” action is routine and not terribly well-crafted. There’s one scene where Æon and her sidekick, Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), are attempting a breach of the Citadel, and this involves running across a booby trapped-infested field. This is the film’s best scene, although I couldn’t figure out why the characters performed so many unnecessary flips.

The action that follows is less impressive. It’s primarily fist fights where many of the hits occur off-screen, and it lacks any sense of visual style. After Æon learns things that the government wanted to keep hidden, we move more toward trying to — and I’m trying to be delicate here by not spoiling the film — “fixing” whatever issue it is that she encounters. Does that give it away? I don’t think so. This doesn’t allow for too many action scenes.

This would be okay if we weren’t promised a ton of action by the film’s opening, and if the plot was anything other than a mess. Unfortunately, Æon Flux shows us that action is on its mind, setting our expectations from the first few scenes, and also contains an uninvolving plot. Or perhaps it’s just revealed and presented to us in an uninteresting way, because on paper it’s actually not that bad. A touch convoluted, I suppose, but that comes with the territory, doesn’t it? It’s just that it didn’t translate well to film.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Æon Flux is based on an animated television series of the same name, which wound up running for far more that 90 minutes. One would think that taking inspiration from a longer material would permit the filmmakers to borrow some more creative action scenes, but there you go. From what I can gather, the show has gathered somewhat of a cult following. If you happen to be a part of that group, you’re probably going to be disappointed with the live action adaptation. If you’re not, you’re still going to be disappointed, but at least it’s not doing a disservice to a property you like.

If Æon Flux has a strength, it’s in its look. Science fiction movies almost always look good or cheap, with little room in between. Æon Flux falls into the former category. It wasn’t the most expensive movie, having a budget just north of $60 million, but that money has been put to good use. The city has a unique look, there’s a lot of interesting set designs, and this is all brought out well by director Karyn Kusama and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, even if they can’t film action scenes as well as they can the sweeping shots of the city.

It’s odd that a cast containing Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand and Pete Posthlewaite exists and does not bring with it even a single good performance. Nobody shows a shred of emotion — even Theron, whose character’s sister is killed and that’s supposed to be a big form of motivation for her — and every actor should be ashamed of the performances in this movie.

Æon Flux is not a good movie. There are some interesting ideas at play, but they wind up feeling far less important than they should. The action is mundane after a certain point, and the plot is muddled and while it might have worked on paper, or even in a television series that had hours and hours to show it, stuffed into a 90-minute action film it doesn’t work. The actors all seem to be ambivalent about their performances, too. It looks nice, for the most part, but that’s the only praise I have for it.

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