Aeon Flux (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I'll never understand why studios sometimes choose to withhold films from critics. The lack of advance screenings of Aeon Flux establishes an expectation that the film is likely to be tough to sit through. It's the studio's way of throwing in the towel. It's a declaration of "no confidence." Imagine my surprise, therefore, to discover that Aeon Flux is not a bad movie. Okay, it's flawed and isn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it's perfectly watchable, especially if viewed on a low-risk medium like DVD. And it's better than about 1/3 of movies for which distributors hold advance screenings.

Aeon Flux is a science fiction adventure film that includes a lot of intriguing ideas, some of which are left underdeveloped. The script, credited to Phil Hay & Matt Mandredi (based on Peter Chung's MTV animated shorts), doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be smart enough to appeal to serious-minded movie-goers or dumb enough to appeal to popcorn-munchers (apologies to those who straddle both categories). So it vacillates and, ultimately, that becomes its undoing. However, except during a few routine action sequences that fail to raise a single nape hair, Aeon Flux is never uninteresting.

Some day, someone is going to make a great feature about cloning. The Island wasn't it, and neither is this. But both films pose some intriguing options that, if properly developed, could result in an eye-opener of a motion picture. Aeon Flux transpires in the year 2415. For 400 years, since 99% of the human race was wiped out by a virus, mankind has been living under the protection of the Goodchild regime in a walled city surrounded by the untamed wild. The population is static. There were 5 million survivors of the global plague in 2011, and there are 5 million men and women in 2415.

As is the case with any totalitarian government, there are rebels. Viewing their predicament as "having traded freedom for a gilded cage," their goals are to disrupt the accepted order and kill the ruler, Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), and/or his second-in-command brother, Oren (Jonny Lee Miller). The most dangerous of the rebels (who call themselves "Monicans") is Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron). Along with her sidekick, Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), she accepts any mission offered by the Handler (Frances McDormand, wearing an outrageous red wig that makes her look like the spawn of Raggedy Ann and Heat Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus). When her beloved sister, Una (Amelia Warner), is killed by government forces, Aeon seizes the opportunity to assassinate Goodchild. But what she learns once she penetrates the Citadel changes her perspective about everything.

Aeon Flux has a strong cast, including Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand, and Oscar nominees Sophie Okonedo and Pete Postlethwaite. Despite that, there isn't a good performance to be found. Everyone appears to have had the life sucked out of them. They're doing the minimum necessary to collect their paychecks. Theron apparently put all of her efforts into doing her own stunts (she was seriously injured during filming), leaving little opportunity for emoting or delivering convincing dialogue. She flips and flops like a circus pro, and some of her costumes don't leave much to the imagination. Nevertheless, it's tough to develop a strong allegiance with a character when the portrayal is bland.

Early in the film, there's a nice action scene featuring pods that spit darts and grass that might cut the lawn mower (rather than the other way around). After that, the "exciting" stuff becomes routine: running around, blowing things up, shooting, etc. The ideas underlying Aeon Flux's plot are the film's strength, and the filmmakers deserve some credit for doing more than paying lip service to them. Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) has a sense of visual flair. Many aspects of Aeon Flux's look could have been derivative, but are not. In truth, although it would be difficult to laud this movie as being anything stronger than mediocre, it is superior to what one would reasonably expect from something Paramount was trying to keep under wraps.

Aeon Flux (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2005-12-04
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations, Brief Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1