By Lady Liberty
* 1/2 out of ****
There were slim pickings at the box office this weekend, with Aeon Flux being the only major release. But, I told a friend of mine, that's okay: I feel "science fictiony" tonight anyway. And so, along with a sparse crowd consisting almost entirely of the film's probable target demographic (young men), I sat back to see just what Aeon Flux was all about.
The film is set some 400 years in the future, long after a 2011 plague decimates virtually the entire population of the planet Earth. In fact, only one city remains, and that's thanks to the last minute discovery of a cure for the disease. The city of Bregna is perfectly landscaped and resembles almost in its entirety a giant futuristic park. Its citizens are uniformly well taken care of. And yet there's ugliness beneath the outer serenity as the government itself is suspected of kidnapping and worse when citizens occasionally disappear without a trace.
A secret group of rebels calling themselves Monicans is working to both mitigate and expose government wrongdoing. Among the Monicans' most stalwart and skilled operatives is Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron). Though she maintains some semblance of normalcy as she visits with her sister, Una (Amelia Warner), she's also covertly in contact with her Monican "handler" (Frances McDormond). As she completes yet another assignment successfully, she returns again to her usual life only to find tragedy has struck in her absence.
Now angrier than ever with the government, Aeon is grimly satisfied to get her next assignment: the assassination of government head, Chairman Trevor Goodchild (Martin Czokas). Along with his brother, Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) and a small committee of others, Goodchild maintains the walled city with an iron fist hidden in a velvet glove of concern for the welfare of all. While most don't even know enough to question the beneficence of the government, Aeon and the other Monicans know too much.
In relatively short order, Aeon finds herself with friend and fellow Monican Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), ready to head into the very seat of government power. Overcoming the many security measures of the government complex, however, turns out to be somewhat less of a problem than the realization that not everything is as it seems. When some of Aeon's most worrisome questions are, at long last, answered by a man known only as The Keeper (Pete Postlethwaite), her perspective is changed dramatically and forever. But surrounded by enemies and with a mission still to complete, what can Aeon do about it?
After an Oscar win for Monster and a probable second nomination on the way for her performance in North Country, nobody can possibly doubt that Charlize Theron can act. In Aeon Flux, however, we see less of Theron's stellar dramatic abilities than we do her incredible good looks. In fact, Theron appears in one skin tight costume after the next (and wait until you see what she sleeps in, boys!) which are so overtly intended to be sexy that they actually begin to take away from what Aeon really is and what Theron is otherwise capable of doing. Sophie Okonedo's Sithandra actually fares a bit better here as she's allowed to be exactly what she and Aeon are supposed to be, that being highly trained agents of revolution.
Martin Czokas comes off well, too, appearing earnest and natural before the cameras. Jonny Lee Miller, though, smirks his way through the film with what appears to be a "look at me, I'm in the movies!" attitude, while the brilliant Frances McDormond (who gave a terrific performance opposite Theron in North Country) is woefully miscast.
The storyline is relatively thin, though I'm not sure we should have expected much more than that from a film based on some MTV animated characters. The inexperienced director (Karyn Kasuma, who has only one small film under her belt) was in over her head as evidenced by two-dimensional performances from even the best actors as well as choppy edits. The film's writers may have been aiming for "surreal," but would have been far better served had they set their sights more toward just plain "real;" much of the dialogue tried much too hard to seem like the people talking might be living in the distant future. Overt inconsistencies also mar the screenplay. Meanwhile, the film's costumers fell into an identical trap, making collars stick up and cutting fabric asymmetrically with a "look, we're in the future!" wink as they did so.
The cinematography, though, was quite good; so was the set design. The stunt work was impressive, to say the least (Theron performed most of her own stunts, and looked just fine doing so). And, not surprisingly, special effects are everywhere. Fortunately, they're very, very well done (although I question the design of the floating Relical, but that's just me).
As a whole, Aeon Flux is all right if you're feeling "science fictiony." As eye candy alone, it's frankly worth the price of admission. But missed opportunities to be so much deeper and, as a result, better, make Aeon Flux as a whole a disappointment at best.
POLITICAL NOTES: At one point, Aeon Flux notes that the residents of Bregna "gave up freedom for life in a gilded cage." While Bregna is lovely and no one is homeless or hungry, it's just as true that everybody is watched on a constant basis, and armed patrols on the streets make it clear that the beauty is only skin deep. That's a valid point, and one I appreciate the movie having made. Far worse for our own present day reality, however, was the reaction of one amateur reviewer who took issue with anybody railing against a government that took such good care of its citizens. It's that attitude that will make the gilded cage scenario all the more likely in our own future, and we can bet that it won't be nearly so pretty as the onscreen Bregna when it happens.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Aeon Flux is rated PG-13 for "sequences of violence and sexual content." That rating seems about right to me. Small children will be scared by some of the action sequences; they also won't understand even the most basic portions of the plot (such as it is). Teen (and even older) boys will love the film based solely on Theron's costumes, and I can see their point; science fiction fans will also have a little something to whet their appetites until the next big (and hopefully better) Hollywood offering comes along. In the main, however, if you've got Christmas shopping to do, you might want to skip the movies this weekend and hold out for the upcoming Chronicles of Narnia instead.
Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at
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