A film review by Craig J. Koban
2005, PG-13, 93 mins.
Aeon Flux: Charlize Theron / Marton Csokas: Trevor Goodchild / Jonny Lee Miller: Oren Goodchild / Frances McDormand: Handler / Pete Postlewaite: Keeper
Directed by Karyn Kusama / Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Some films remind me of why I truly want to go to the movies. Contrastingly, others go out of their way to reinforce why I sometimes don’t want to go to the movies. AEON FLUX is one of those films in the latter category. It has the awesome and perseverant power to strangle its viewers and squeeze the air right out of their lungs with its ponderous mediocrity. It's not even bad in uplifting ways. Instead, sitting through it is akin to watching your friend play an insipid shoot-em-up video game for hours on end without a hope in hell of getting up and hitting the reset button.
Obviously, the studio that released AEON FLUX also felt the same way. Instead of standing behind its creation and releasing it to the world with an assured rush of confidence, Paramount Pictures opted to forgo a critic screening in North America (never, ever a good sign of a film’s worth) and instead inauspiciously dumped the film on the film going masses. Well, thanks a pant load, Paramount.
AEON FLUX reminds me of many other unattainably wretched action films of recent memory. You know, the ones that feature incredible sexy and arresting women – wearing as little as possible without achieving actual nudity – wiping the floors with their enemies with round after round of gunfire and much gravity defying kung fu theatrics. Redundancy and sameness have always been terms that plagued my mind while watching these films. Now, at the risk of sounding sexist, there is nothing inherently wrong with gorgeous women strutting their stuff, looking unapologetically demur, and kicking some serious tail. If men can do it, so can women. No, the problem is that these films don’t give their heroines anything interesting to do or say. They are essentially window dressing in a window dressing-filled film of sights and sounds.
After enduring the futuristic sci-fi actioneer AEON FLUX I was reminded of other would-be kinetic and thrilling films, like the cataclysmically awful CATWOMAN (with Halle Berry) and the equally putridULTRAVIOLET (with Mila Jovovich) from earlier this year. It is a true shame that the modern Hollywood machine can’t give these women starring roles in action films that do more than allow them to parade around and strut and pose like they were in the latest photo shoot for Cosmopolitan. I remember a more modest age when female action heroes were simultaneously smart, sexy and commanded our respect and buy in. Ripley in the ALIEN films is one of these characters, and her strong presence lent an emotional credence to her stories. You get none of that with the women in the previously mentioned films – and especially in AEON FLUX. They're superficial to their core. They play like eye-catchy, but intellectually vacant, video games for horny prepubescent boys and less like absorbing and involving escapist thrillers for mature viewers. Sigh.
To be fair, AEON FLUX is not as bad as ULTRAVIOLET (few films achieve that high level of low worth). It’s twice the movie that film was, which is not saying a lot considering that I gave ULTRAVIOLET a half-star review. So, considering the fact that I did not have fun watching AEON FLUX I decided to take a rather fun approach to writing the rest of this review. Instead of following the normal form of writing a critique, I opted to place my thoughts down in an itemized list. I like lists.
Here are my TEN OBSERVATIONS about AEON FLUX:
1. I am noticing a disturbing turn for the worse by seeing Oscar winning actors slumming their way through horrible follow-up works to their Academy Award winning performances. Halle Berry should have relinquished her statue for appearing in the witless CATWOMAN. Ditto for Jamie Foxx for agreeing to appear in the equally dumb STEALTH. Now comes Charlize Theron, who plays her role of the title character with stoic, one note emotive charm of a person that has just been bitten by a vampire. For a woman as charming, attractive, and likeable as her, her work here is undeniably lackluster.
2. The film also has many other Oscar winners and past-nominated performers, like Frances McDormand and Pete Postlethwaite. They too – unfortunately – deliver performances that look like they have just been given sedatives. It is so completely joyless to see great actors having no joy in playing their parts.
3. The film itself is one of those would-be morality sci-fi parables that does not have a clue as to whether it is too silly and insipid or too preposterously serious for its own good. It never even finds a happy medium between the two. The story is based on a series of MTV animated shorts. What works good for the eye-popping world of colorful animation does not necessarily correlate well to an equally good live action film experience.
4. AEON FLUX’s story has potentially intriguing elements that are snuffed out completely by the film’s heavy-handed and dull approach to the material. In this film’s case, it deals with the use and misuse of cloning. In the year 2415 a killer disease has decimated 99 per cent of the world. The survivors live under the Goodchild regime in a walled city surrounded by a wild and untamed wilderness. The world that has resulted is ruled by a dystopian and totalitarian government, but there are rebels that want to overthrow it. Hmmm…if I had a nickel for every time a rebel alliance wanted to overthrow a despotic and dictatorial, post-apocalyptic society…
5. Both the “good guys” and “bad guys” in the film are unmistakably dull and unmemorable. There are the rulers Trevor Goodchild (Morton Csokas) and his brother Oren (Jonny Lee Miller). The hero/rebels are the "Monicans" with incredible gifts. The most talented Monican is Flux herself, who is given the assignment by the cognitive handler in her mind (played by McDormand, who has never looked as stiff and ridiculous as she does here) to take out the Goodchild government. She also agrees to do this when her sister has apparently been killed. If you have still followed this plot and understood it fully, then I applaud you. Your willingness to excuse the plot's convoluted and overwhelmingly tired storyline is remarkable.
6. AEON FLUX is flat, underwhelming, and flaccid as far as futuristic video game inspired films go. It has a ponderous lethargy and genuine disdain for being unique and inventive. The film is so monotone, so flat, and so lacking in inspiration that you want to grab all of the characters and force them at gun point to express a little vitality and exuberance. Okay, so this is an oppressive future, but can’t the thought of overthrowing an oppressive regime be exciting and uplifting?
7. The film does reinforce one unmistakable truth. If you are the ruler of a totalitarian government and you see a sly and sleek looking woman wearing a fetishistic outfit with a determined look on her face, then you may want to send in for reinforcements…or get the hell out of the way. Theron does what she can in her one-note role as Flux. Essentially, that is to look like a Barbie doll, run around in tight little spandex numbers for 90 minutes, all while disposing of evil henchmen and lackeys with a superhuman level of dexterity. I especially howled at one scene where she is able to dispatch of a few dozen cronies (all with guns pointed at her from an advantageous elevated position) with two handheld weapons. Yup. Sure. Uh-huh. Films like AEON FLUX that take their stories so earnestly and solemnly should not be so irrevocably hokey and lame with their action scenes. The film is ostentatiously derivative in its repetitive moments of mayhem. You’ve seen one film with a babe killing a lot of men, than you’ve seen them all.
8. When science fiction films are done well, they can be everlasting and remarkably assured pieces of escapist cinema. There is something wholeheartedly chilling and ghastly about science fiction films like AEON FLUX. They represent Hollywood’s manipulation of modern audiences by spoon-feeding them endless films that sacrifice ideas and themes for mind-numbing and ludicrous action scenes. I use to remember when science fiction films were about telling us things. Contemporary sci-fi opuses like AEON FLUX fell more obliged to show us things. And when the sights themselves fail overall to inspire (the effects in the film are spotty and inconsistent) then we’ve really hit a rut.
9. Ultimately, the makers had only one choice to save this unyielding train wreck of a film. It could have been played for a respectable level of giddy, fun camp appeal and hilarity (BARBERELLA knew this virtue and stuck with it). If played for some broad laughs and not for serious introspection into its themes, then AEON FLUX could have been a riotous good time. Alas, it’s yearning to be unintentionally incoherent with its narrative and ideas – not to mention being too utterly self-absorbed – ruins it in the end. I mean, when your main character looks like she belongs on this month’s cover of MAXIM – then just how seriously can one be expected to take the film?
10. AEON FLUX sucks.