You have two choices when you consider Æon Flux (that’s spelled with seven letters, not eight – I like to go the extra mile for you die-hard Liquid Television fans). You can look at it through the eyes of someone familiar with the televisions series, eager for a film true to the style and story of the original, or you can go in with no pre-conceived notion of what to expect, hoping only for an enjoyable sci-fi action flick. In the end it doesn’t really matter which one you choose – you’re going to be hopelessly disappointed either way.
The story is based on a very edgy and stylized (and short-lived) animated series that was full of edgy characters engaged in all manner of edgy, stylistic fighting. The filmmakers have taken all that razor sharp edginess, dulled it until it was hardly fit to roll cookie dough, and handed us something that couldn’t cut paper but might come in handy for hitting yourself on the forehead, an activity you’ll no doubt feel a regular desire to partake in while watching. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have its moments; they’re just very few and very far between.
Æon Flux, played by the sadly miscast Charlize Theron, lives in a world where a horrible disease has ravaged nearly all of Earth’s population. A brilliant scientist, one Dr. Goodchild, managed to develop a cure for the disease and the remaining 5 million people on the planet flocked to his banner, living in the completely isolated city of Bregna. There they live in peace and harmony under the rule of the Goodchild descendants for hundreds of years. While most folks are happy with this pseudo-Eden, a rogue part of the population known as the Monicans form a quiet rebellion against the Goodchilds, suspecting that the utopian world they live in is actually a vast conspiracy. When the Monicans send their best agent, Æon Flux, on a mission to kill the Chairman of the Goodchild council, she uncovers far more than the simple totalitarian regime she expected.
The setup is deceptively simple. In due course the movie actually manages some attractive if not trite plot twists. Those few gleaming moments are tragically overshadowed by ridiculous dialogue and even worse acting choices. Stone-cold line delivery and stylized emotional outbursts may have worked for the animated show but in this real version they lead to bouts of audience snickering. The most dramatic moments are completely disconnected as the actors converse in the kinds of emotionless, monotonous tones you would expect from a Hilary Clinton / Diane Sawyer interview.
The action sequences are a miserable attempt to recreate the animated series’ fight style using actors who sadly can’t defy the laws of anatomy by inverting their hips so they can run around on the ground like a spider (although one of them does get her feet replaced with hands to achieve that innovative opposable toe effect that I guess makes monkeys such agile fighters). To make matters worse, the villains have apparently all taken master classes in unrealistic shooting. It’s hard to buy into several dozen soldiers who can hit with a single shot a remote target several hundred feet above them during a massive fire fight only to turn around and unload hundreds of rounds on Æon who is fifty feet away and not manage a single bullet wound.
The costuming and sets are also a huge disappointment, looking like designs stolen from The Fifth Element’s rejected concept trash can. Only blackmail could explain Frances McDormand and Pete Postlethwaite’s willingness to wear their ridiculous costumes. Poor Pete comes off looking like an old man stuck in an oversize, dried out Cheeto Puff, and his get-up makes Frances look even sillier.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Karyn Kusama was hired to direct. After all her only other film, Girlfight, was also a story about a girl coming to terms with her identity and making a career out of kicking butt and taking names while blazing a path for others to follow. The difference between that movie and Æon Flux is a tangible sense of humanity among the characters. Perhaps that’s because Æon Flux was penned by the guys who brought us Jackie Chan’s The Tuxedo. Kusama demonstrates very little panache for the movie’s action sequences and the script doesn’t lend itself to anything exciting either.
The movie manages to keep itself afloat for the full 90 minutes but just barely avoids crossing the line into “really awful movie” territory. Oftentimes it feels like the action has been dumbed down or edited to achieve a gratuitous, marketing friendly PG-13 rating. Expect an uncut director’s edition in the not-so-distant future. If you can get through the opening sequence where Charliz Theron catches a fly with her eyelashes (which, by the way, isn’t anywhere near as cool as it was in the animated show), you’ll be able to handle everything else the film throws at you. It’s a forgettable movie that tries too hard to aspire to something it could never be: worthy of the title Æon Flux.