Aeon Flux

Totalitarian government, yadda yadda
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2005
Director: 
Karyn Kusama
Starring: 
Charlize Theron, Marton Csokas, Johnny Lee Miller, Sophie Okonedo
The Setup: 
Woman kicks ass to bring down repressive society, or whatever.
Discussion: 

Having just watched Jennifer's Body, obviously we must look back into the oeuvre of Karyn Kusama to learn that she has brought her, ummmm, distinctive cinematic vision to the world before. Here, Charlize Theron is an ass-kicking future warrior fighting for the cause of freedom or whatever against the totalitarian regime of this or that thing, for some reason.

So I just watched Jennifer's Body, which was pretty ineptly directed, lots of zoomy technique without much sense holding it together, and upon looking up what else its director, Karyn Kusama had done, I saw her previous film was this, which I then knew I must see again immediately. My friends and I all skipped work one day to see this, hoping it would be deliriously bad, and unfortunately finding it to be only drearily lame. There wasn't much to laugh at, or much to enjoy. But since I can watch anything sci-fi, I knew I should give it a more attentive watch and a proper review.

We open with some titles telling us that in 2011 (this came out in 2006) a virus wipes out 99% of society, and all the survivors now live in a walled city called Bregna. It's 2415. The first thing that happens is that a fly zooms directly into the eye of our heroine, and she captures it with her eyelashes. I suppose this is a useful skill? This is a recreation of the opening moments of the Adult Swim series of short animated films this is based on, where somehow one can buy it as slightly more cool. Here it's just a bit like... Okay? I guess she's awesome because her razor-sharp instincts allow her to catch flying insects on a collision course with her eyeball? Anyway, she soon gives us some voiceover telling us that they live in this perfect society, but "we are haunted by sorrows we cannot name," which sounds like daily life now to me, and also that occasionally people just vanish for no reason. Aeon is a Monican, a rebel group that "fights for the disappeared." Apparently in the comic Monica was the other city, so the rebels are from there, but in this movie there's just one city and the name Monicans is never explained.

Anyway, Aeon is hanging' one day in her head-mesh (perhaps to prevent insects from flying into her eyes?) when she starts making out with a total stranger, and he passes a pill into her mouth. This pill allows her to take a meeting in her mind, where she meets a slumming Frances MacDormand with glowy orange hair, who gives her a mission to sneak in somewhere and do something. Aeon then meets her sister, Una, who is having her over to dinner that night. They have some political discussion, then Aeon goes on her mission, which involves her infiltrating this building using her super-silly spider-walk (she's obviously just being pulled by a wire as she makes climbing motions) to get up on the roof and kill several guards. I watched the pilot of the series, and found it a very stripped-down thing in which Aeon is infiltrating somewhere and the main content is her laying waste to hundreds of guards, almost for its own sake. So I guess that's the main content this takes from the series: she sneaks into places and kills guards on the way. Anyway, she gets into this hall where there's a ring of clouds raining drips down into this pool that contains pictures of the populous' scenes of daily life. I guess it's a kind of surveillance pool? I guess? We actually never find out, all we know is that Aeon disrupts it, and that is a blow for FREEDOM! Meanwhile her sister opens the door, expecting to find Aeon there, but greets only a bullet to the face. Aeon arrives just in time to see her body be taken out.

Aeon wakes the next morning in her sleeping wear, which consists of a bikini bottom and these two chains that hang down, barely covering her breasts. Doesn't look like snug sleepwear to me. She takes another drink and pays another visit to MacDormand, who gives her a mission to go kill Trevor Goodchild, the one who cured the virus and created the city, and whose picture is on a bunch of Mao-like public posters in which he is replicated in a Warhol-esque style. MacDormand spits a flower out of her mouth that puffs a bunch of pollen than lands in Aeon's eyes and somehow downloads the specifics of the plan? It's all quite unclear, although I do like this idea of these drugs and potions and pills that allow you to have secret meetings right in the privacy of your mind. That's a good idea that needs a better movie to surround it.

Aeon meets her buddy Sithandra, who has had her feet replaced with hands so that she can more deftly execute rebel gymnastics routines, and they both go jumping and tumbling through this garden filled with plants and gizmos meant to look like plants that shoot poison darts. Only Sithandra gets hit by three poison darts and is no worse for wear. You'll find that getting cut or shot or hit with poison darts is the equivalent of a bee sting in this movie, unless you're a faceless guard, whereupon they spell instant death. Sucks to be a faceless guard! Now our attention turns to Trevor Goodchild, who, we soon discover, actually wants to tear down the society he himself built, but is hampered by his brother, Oren, played by Jonny Lee Miller. Anyway, Trevor goes to practice his speech, which is where Aeon discovers that maybe he's actually a good guy. She's about to kill him anyway, but they seem to recognize each other, and in her moment of hesitation she is taken prisoner. They soon have a little chat in which they are freaked out at recognizing each other, and Trevor is considered to be losing it because he lets her live. Aeon summons her loyal explosive ball bearings and escapes. This movie is okay in just throwing out a bunch of speculative cool gadgets, without taking the time to really explain them. They come on, do something cool, and we're left to just accept it, which is okay, it's just that there's so many here. We also find out that it was Oren himself who set up the assassination, using the Monicans as a tool to divert blame. Geez, there's a lot of story here.

So Aeon remains within the palace or wherever, where she and Sithandra have a parting of the ways, since Aeon has gone off the mission. This results in one of the only really laughable things about this movie, which is where Aeon ties up her friend and dumps her in one of the decorative pools with only a straw to breathe through. She lays there long enough for you to start remembering her later, like "So her friend is still laying underwater somewhere?" She goes in at 52 minutes, and we don't see her again until 106 minutes, which got a big laugh from my friends and I upon first viewing--she's still there! In the meantime, Sithandra has taken a meeting in her mind, and gotten authorization to off Aeon with the help of three top assassins, who come and pull her out of the water. Presumably they all had to do gymnastics through the deadly garden as well.

Meanwhile Aeon has made another attempt to kill Trevor, and only ended up making out with him, then sleeping with him. Around now it's only halfway though the movie, but interest is flagging fast, and it feels like this should be wrapping up, probably because there's just so much story here. Aeon goes downstairs where there's some lab that is--well, I can't even go into it--but apparently Trevor is working on a cure for the ill-defined problem that we keep hearing about, but never seeing any evidence of. There she is attacked by some random woman, and we discover that being impaled on two massive spikes really will NOT cause bodily damage of any note. If I cared enough, which I do not, I'm sure an amusing list could be compiled of all the bodily damage sustained and survived by our characters.

Anyway, Aeon goes up to this huge hovering squid-thing (don't ask) that contains the records of all the dead inhabitants (I guess? Or something?) as well as Pete Postlethewaite looking particularly wrinkly and wearing an outfit that makes him look like some kind of grub. There she looks up her deceased sister, which leads her to this couple's house, where she discovers that their baby is her cloned sister. Trevor finds her there. We are stupefied to discover that the society has been surviving by cloning its inhabitants over and over again, which is why Trevor and Aeon remember each other, and why people have these vague memories and are "haunted by sorrows we cannot name." Thing is, no one in the audience gives a fuck. BUT! Some kind of bomb is thrown through the window! There's a huge shootout in the courtyard, in which we learn that Aeon can evade multiple streams of machine gun fire shot directly at her simply by executing a few sleek gymnastic moves.

From now on it's all tedium as she and Trevor run here, run there, etc. Aeon is almost shot, but convinces Sithandra to protect her, then Oren is revealed as the bad guy, and he's shot. In here Aeon gets her hand sliced open, and it's still bloody in the next few shots, then it seems to be miraculously healed. Also in here Trevor receives a fatal gunshot wound, is staggering for a second, then is apparently healed and is walking around just fine minutes later. Aeon takes out untold numbers of faceless troops, all of whom, by contrast, kindly die with just a single wound. By the way, you'll note that Aeon is able to move Trevor unnoticed through crowds of people, despite the fact that he is the best-known figure in all the land, and huge posters of his face are on virtually every corner. She then gets up into the floating squid-thing once again and blows it up and rides it down as it crashes, and lo and behold, this out-of-control crash lands her just yards away from Trevor and company! It has broken through the city wall and we see citizens gathered around, gaping in wonder at the new world of freedom opened to them. It is literally the exact same ending as Logan's Run.

In fact, the whole thing is a thinly-veiled retread of the template laid by Logan's Run and--gee, who thought that tacky (but delightful) little sci-fi number from 1976 would leave such a lasting legacy? I am wondering--was there another, more influential movie [on this] than Logan's Run that I am forgetting? Write and tell me in the comments. Because if not, looks like that movie's influence was much greater than one might have suspected. Here we are, still making copies of it, thirty years later.

Okay look, so you have this series of under-ten-minute animations with a few figures, not even what you might call characters, and virtually no storyline. So when it comes time to make a whole movie, it seems they resorted to the old utopian society shtick, complete with totalitarian government, yadda yadda, along with a dark secret underlying it all, which has to do with maintaining eternal youth, and at the end the repressive order is brought down and the insular world of the utopian society is broken, and this is treated as the dawning of a new day of freedom. It IS Logan's Run. The problem (or, one of the numerous problems) with this movie is that there's just WAYYYY too much story and too many dark secrets and after a while you just shut down and want it to end. Not to mention that if you came to see a movie blown up out of a story-free cartoon, a massively involved story is not what you're here for. Not to mention that the film itself really doesn't give a shit about the story, it's more just about Aeon doing flips and blowing away faceless thugs, so every time we delve into the story, it's just a distraction. Thing is, the story just keeps coming back, and back, and back, no matter how much you just want it to go away.

Add to this that Theron is just basically wrong for the part. It's great that she wants to stretch and take on this kind of role (or non-role), but she never seems fully comfortable and every time she appears on screen, it's a bit of a jolt. She never looks quite right in her jet-black wig, and who knows, she just conveys too much sophistication for this. She's too sympathetic to buy as a ruthless assassin, and isn't able to just turn it all off and appear as a rage-fueled killing machine. Compare her to Carrie-Ann Moss in the Matrix films (and by the way, what happened to Carrie-Ann Moss?), who is able to turn steely and unfeeling when it's time to kick ass. When Theron tries it, she just doesn't convince. As for Kusama's direction, is it really that bad? Well, yes. Individual shots work and look good, but the problem, which is identified as HER problem when viewed with Jennifer's Body, is that individual sequences may be okay, they just don't all coalesce into one continuous story with a unified tone. Here it's like this scene is about grrrl power, that scene is about Aeon's tender feelings, this scene is exposition, this scene is about new futuristic gadgets, but it never unifies. Add to that Theron's inability to convince in this role, and one simply never gets caught up in the story, but remains at a distance.

Nevertheless, is it fun? Unfortunately, not really. It's not good, and it's not bad and silly enough to be an energetic lark. And there's so much plot one needs to attend to, it's less like a spectacularly entertaining crash and more like a car limping along with a flat tire. Taking a survey of IMDb comments, it seems that if you loved the cartoons, the movie will be all wrong for you, and if you didn't, it's just not good enough on its own. Another of those movies that won't kill you, but there's no real reason for anyone to see.

Should you watch it: 

Not really.

Comments

While I understand the difficulty in transferring the "possible variations on a theme/perhaps reincarnations or dimensional differences" plotlessness of the animated series to the film, where the movie really fell down was in losing the evocation of mood that the series did so well. Which is to say that you didn't really need to understand exactly what was going on, but you could really get into the weird, kinky, flirty, dangerous vibe that the series was succeeding at pulling off.

The MOVIE, on the other hand, entirely destroys this mood, and plays more as "weird for weird's sake."

THIS should have been the sic-fi movie that Lynch directed instead of Dune, yes?