Aeon Flux

Why a talented cast would sign on to this contrived sci-fi action flick is not so clear.

By:Bob Brown
   In Aeon Flux, what’s left of civilization 400 years from now looks a lot like those TV ads for photochromic eyeglasses, that so-called future "where everyone protects their eyes from sun damage like they protect their skin." Oh that we could protect our eyes from movies about the future like this one.
   Aeon Flux. It sounds like an emetic. It should. The film’s silliness is proportional to its sense of style. True to modern-day filmmaking, the sci-fi action flick should give cityscapes, public transportation, vegetation, clothes, music, home décor, even food and drink, an attitude. Besides the characters’ expressions, everything in this movie looks severe, sterile and therefore menacing, as if remnants of the Third Reich were in charge of all industrial design. In fact, the filmmakers found their model for the city-sets in Bauhaus-inspired architecture of Berlin and Potsdam.
   Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) directed Aeon Flux from a script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, based on Peter Chung’s animated MTV series of the same name from Dark Horse Comics. The film’s plot is so contrived that to spell it out would strain credulity. So the characters merely proceed through it without explanation, leaving the audience bewildered for most of the first two thirds of the film. When the truth is gradually revealed, we’re past caring anyway.
   The movie portends a time six years from now when 99 percent of humanity will be wiped out by a virus, leaving only the scientist Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) and his brother Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) to figure out how to preserve and govern the 5 million who are left. Unfortunately, Trevor’s antidote to the virus leaves everyone sterile, so Trevor, or Trevor’s Trevor’s Trevor’s Trevor’s Trevor (ad infinitum), must keep regenerating himself and others (cloning) to continue the species. You figure that somehow, someone in generations to come will eventually achieve procreative liftoff au naturel.
   This leads to some unintentionally hilarious scenes. For example, one of the Trevors must explain to a gaping young Trevor clone not only the facts of life (petri dishes) but also his duty to generations to come. Talk about being chained to the family business. It’s Groundhog Day multiplied.
   All this happens within a hermetically walled-off city compound, Bregna, which is separated from the ruined natural world by a sort of massive concrete levee. M. Night Shyamalan would have been proud. Everyone in Bregna is blithely going about their business, occasionally being snatched off the street by mysterious agents, never to be seen again (at least not in the same form).
   But underground rebel forces are planning to overthrow the oppressive Goodchild dynasty, with key assassinations directed sub-consciously by the enigmatic, red-haired Handler (Frances McDormand). One of her charges is the gorgeous and deadly Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron), aided by her trusty sidekick Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo). Sith has had hands transplanted in place of her feet, which gives a new meaning to hand-to-hand-to-hand-to-hand combat. "You ought to have it done," Sith tells Aeon, as if it’s a new hairdo. "I like shoes too much," responds the stylish Aeon. The pair are extreme martial artists who can whack a suit of body armor without breaking their nails.
   Their mission is to penetrate the Goodchild lair and kill the leader. But Aeon, a potent blend of animal sexuality and lethal dexterity, is also a free-thinking female who questions every step of the way. What makes her a heroine is not only her physical power, but also her mental toughness and flexibility. She literally thinks on the fly. The plot takes a twist, so that she turns from stalker, to lover, to protector, to one-woman battalion.
   With all that’s happening in the real world, it’s hard to see how movies with such cartoon machine-gun violence can be entertainment. More bodies are dispatched by gunfire and explosions than you can shake a stick of dynamite at.
   The physical demands of playing Aeon challenged Ms. Theron, who wanted to see how far she could push herself. And push she did to the point of injury and a temporary postponement of the schedule. Why the other talented cast would sign on is not so clear. Pete Postlethwaite plays the disembodied Keeper of lost identities. As such, he is reduced to roaming dreamily around the inside of a giant flying dirigible while wearing a costume that looks like an escapee from the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. What’s otherwise tolerable is the imaginative score by film composer Graeme Revell. And the high-concept production and costume designs by Andrew McAlpine and Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, respectively, are intriguing in themselves.
   Several cartoon narratives have been adapted to the screen with live actors now. We’ve had enough to question whether flesh and blood adds anything to what has worked better in a two-dimensional world of flat colors and broad brushstrokes. Perhaps Aeon Flux will excite fans of the animated version. That, or it will drive them back to the original for a taste of the real stuff.
Rated PG-13. Contains sequences of violence and sexual content.