Monday, January 16, 2012

More Comprehensive Than The Cartoon, Aeon Flux Goes Live Action!

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting enough story
The Bad: A number of cheated effects, Fairly bland characters, Neat and tidy ending
The Basics: In a dystopian future, freedom fighter Aeon Flux is given the assignment of a lifetime; kill the tyrant who has enslaved the humans. Instead, she learns the truth in Aeon Flux.

I was never a fan of the Aeon Flux animated series on MTV, not from lack of trying. It was a series of short works that created a futuristic world where the hero, Aeon Flux ran around blowing things up, getting it on with her enemies and managing to get killed every episode. It was a nonlinear series, thus she was killed repeatedly over the course of the series. It just never managed to appeal to me enough to get into it. The animated series just felt so . . . undeveloped, juvenile. I could see the appeal to the usual crowd of youth who watch MTV, though; it was fast, filled with action and the lead was a hot chick. It certainly fit the demographic of the teens who the show was targeting.

In the live action Aeon Flux, the viewer is treated to a reasonable amount of backstory. It is early 2400s and all that remains on Earth is a single city, humanity having been wiped out by a plague in the early 2000s. The leader of the world, Chairman Trevor Goodchild, has created a tyranny that is lush and beautiful but offers no real freedom. Above the garden paradise that is Bregna (the city) is a floating zeppelin called the Relical that is supposed to remind the people of the past and the horrors humanity has survived.

There are rebels in Bregna, known as the Monicans. They are essentially terrorists (or insurgents or freedom fighters, perspective dependent, of course) who run around blowing things up. The best of them is Aeon Flux and she is charged with disrupting Bregna's advanced surveillance technology. While Aeon works to free humanity from the Goodchild Regime, Trevor's brother Oren makes a power play and soon Aeon is charged with killing Trevor and in the process she learns the truth.

I have to admit, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Aeon Flux. I'm sure there are die-hard fans of the animated series who find this incarnation to be bland and against the canon of the Fluxverse. It's probably why I enjoyed it as much as I did. In order to sustain a ninety minute feature Aeon Flux resorts to a surprisingly rational story. In short, it explains the world it is set in, the characters explore that world and live within its rules and there is a fairly neat and tidy beginning, middle and end to the movie that was lacking in the animated series. In short, I did not spend the entire duration of the movie wondering constantly what was going on.

Those who know me might be tempted to believe that at this point, I am likely to complain that it explained itself too much, but I won't go quite that far. Aeon Flux has a decent balance between establishing the world it seeks to portray and exploring its secrets once there.

Equally surprising to how developed the plot of the movie is is the fact that for a big-budget (or moderately budgeted) science fiction special effects movie, so many of the special effects are cheated. There are a number of times that Aeon is firing her gun and the barrel of the gun is out of the shot, preventing us from seeing the spray of bullets. So, in one particularly adventurous scene, Flux is on the run firing her weapon and all we see are the effects of the shots, in this case huge chunks of a stone building coming down underneath the feet of her enemies.

And it's not just gunfire. One of the other Monicans, Sithandra, has had her feet replaced with hands (because, why not, right?) and so she is running around barehanded throughout the movie. At one point, she is tumbling through the air and the director must not have wanted to swap out the actress's feet because the shot is cheated so that Sithandra's lower hands are never in the shot as she falls. It's such an obvious and cheap shot that it's almost laughable.

And, it seems, no one has yet perfected a bluescreen shot of someone hanging from something flying. I've yet to see a movie where a person hanging from a helicopter looks real when looking down as they soar over the ground. Maybe it's a perspective matter that no one has yet figured out.

Anyway, the special effects that the movie deigns to do are decent. The rest are cheated out.

Aeon Flux is an interesting enough character for the first time. In the movie, she is motivated by the death of her sister. Trevor's regime had her killed, likely because of Aeon's status as a member of the rebelling Monicans. Aeon's guilt and desire for revenge motivate her and that is a compelling enough motivation for us to believe her as the story begins. As the secrets of Bregna reveal themselves to Aeon, her character does a decent job of growing from the new information she receives.

And Trevor Goodchild is, quite simply, more complex than the average supposed villain in science fiction. Trevor is a world leader played like a world leader. He is a man with responsibilities and things he does to keep Bregna running. When Aeon makes her assassination attempt on him, he is practicing a speech! That kind of detail makes him ring as fairly realistic and at worst interesting.

The people who surround Trevor and Aeon are all "types," though. Outside Aeon, the Monicans are pretty thoughtless terrorists. Their motivations aren't explored, so they end up as caricatures of freedom fighters. They are gun-toting rebels out to shoot and kill without a clear reason as to why. Trevor's fellow politicians, similarly, are just stereotypes of what we expect of politicians. Oren is the ambitious brother, the others on the council are supportive of whoever is strong and none of them seem to have what it takes to be worth watching.

Oren is played by the generically good-looking Jonny Lee Miller and his performance is fairly dry. He lacks the charm of any politician who is attempting conspiratorial politics. It is refreshing, however, to see Pete Postlethwaite in the movie as the Keeper. Postlethwaite is perfectly cast as the subtle elder who guards the Relical. Similarly, in a movie where the heroine is running around in costumes designed to flaunt her figure, one of the most beautiful individuals presented is Frances McDormand as the Handler. Neither McDormand nor Postlethwaite are given large enough roles to say their talents are well-used, but it's refreshing to see them nonetheless and they do make the most of the scenes they are in.

The one who failed to grab me was Marton Csokas as Trevor Goodchild. When I first heard there was a live action Aeon Flux being made, I had just seen 28 Days Later (reviewed here!) and I could think of no one better for the role than Christopher Eccleston. Csokas does not have the look of Trevor but more than that, he doesn't seem to have the bland, casual brutality to him that made Trevor Goodchild in the animated version. I'm all for getting away from the animated Aeon Flux, but in this case, Trevor Goodchild is never menacing. In short, he's never a villain and I attribute that in large part to the acting of Marton Csokas.

The one bound to make or break the movie is actress Charlize Theron, as she takes on the title role of Aeon Flux. In short, she does what is demanded of the role. She runs, she jumps, she speaks the lines Flux has and she does it all well. Actually, Theron was surprisingly well cast and she certainly brings something more than just her body to the role. She makes us believe that a cold-hearted assassin could be rational and stay her hand for the truth in a way Jennifer Gardner failed to in Elektra (reviewed here!).

Aeon Flux is not great filmmaking; some of the fights drag on too long and outside Aeon, the characters don't pop with enough motivation to make us invested in the world they have created. But it's solidly entertaining and it's worth the watch when one wants something fun.

For other movies with dystopian futures, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Alien Quadrilogy


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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