Monday, September 24, 2012

Æon Flux

I remember watching the Mtv animated series this film is based on all the time when it aired in the early 90s. What I don't remember was the main plot (or if there even was one) for the title character's motivation. What I do recall was the lithe heroine using some flashy acrobatics to infiltrate some impregnable installation of some sort, and she was out to kill someone named Trevor. The animation was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, and even though the main character rarely spoke, she was pretty friggin’ bad ass.

Well over 10 years later comes this live action version of the series, and I'm curious as to what was the main reason to make this film now as opposed to when the series was popular. Ehh, who cares. The movie is here now and it's decently bad ass.

400 years in the future all that's left of humankind (3 million people) will live inside a walled city named Bregna. The disease that nearly wiped out our race has been cured and prosperity reigns, although a group of rebels don't see things that way. People disappear without a trace, some are murdered and their deaths are covered up and oppression is at an all time high thanks to Trevor Goodchild and the power he holds over Bregna due to his ancestor creating the cure. A rebel named Æon Flux (Charlize Theron) is assigned to assassinate Trevor in order to give control of the city to the people. She accepts the mission, mainly so she can exact revenge upon Trevor for having her entire family killed, but discovers that things are more complicated than she ever imagined.

I have to admit. During the film's first 30 minutes I was not entirely digging it. Sure it's beautifully shot and it stars one of the most attractive women to ever walk this Earth, but the set-up is kind of mishandled, the dialogue is stilted and the opening action scene is a little underwhelming since there's so much weird, crazy stuff being thrown at you with little explanation as to what we just saw (what was that reflecting pool she sabotaged?). Even though there are some clever references to the source material (the fly in the eye gag) it’s a confusing way to introduce us to this world.
However, once a strangely unnecessary love scene takes place (or so I thought) things begin to take shape and make sense. Then I was hit by just how creative the entire package is, from the costumes to the little details that make this world come to life. I mean, where do you see cell phone technology heading in the next century? Well, in 400 years they will be imbedded into the skin of our ears and you dial by thinking about it. That's damn cool. What about online meetings? Chat rooms? Well, here you take a drug capsule that adjusts your brainwaves to a certain frequency that others are set to as well and you converse in a sort of dreamlike mindstate. It’s trippy as hell and pretty original if you ask me. I was eating this stuff up and enjoying every second of it.

What surprised me the most about the film was how little it relied on action as opposed to plot and character. Actually, the action scenes were kind of weak (except for that awesome infiltration scene with the spiked grass and ballistic fruit), which made the dialogue scenes better since they were handled in the most competent way possible (I get the feeling that action isn't director Karyn Kusama's forte) and were interesting to boot. It’s especially apparent when all the surprising twists and turns begin to come into play. Exposition can be a good thing when presented properly, like it is here.

Charlize Theron, aside from being smokin' hot, was the perfect choice for this part even though her character talks too damn much. She looks great performing the funky acrobatics in which her character excels and she has the uber sexy body language her animated counterpart constantly showed off. Plus all the complaining online about her character's signature “curled” hairstyle from the cartoon was wasted. It's there. It's just not as exaggerated as it was in the show.
Her supporting cast is excellent as well. Martin Csokas is awesome as the mysterious Trevor Goodchild. Jonny Lee Miller is good no matter what he's in, and seeing him in a well deserved high profile movie was a nice change. I've never seen Sophie Okonedo in a film like this before, but she pulls off her strange and unreadable character of Sithandra admirably. She made this assassin, who’s had her feet replaced with hands, unique and more than just a background character. Plus she has one kicker of a scene toward the end.

I was a bit disappointed with the amount of screentime given to Frances McDormand and Pete Postlethwaite. McDormand essentially has a cameo, with maybe 4 lines total, and Postlethwaite just sort of pops up and says "Hey! I'm still alive and ready to act!" I was hoping that these accomplished actors would add something special to this glorified indie film, but they really don't.

I'm wondering why all the recent CGI heavy flicks (Serenity, Doom, Transporter 2, The Fog) have all featured some pretty lackluster FX. Maybe it's a sign that directors are trying to focus less on the spectacle and more on the plot and characters (although Serenity was the only one that actually did that). The CGI here is passable. It looks decent enough but won't win any awards. Although some of the things on display look pretty damn creatively designed, like the remembrance blimp.
When you get down to it this is Science Fiction, not Sci-Fi. It's about ideas, not flashy king-fu fights. It's a cautionary tale like a Philip K. Dick novel. It's more akin to Dark City, Equilibrium or Cube than Star Wars or Independence Day. It makes you think while you watch Theron's supple body bounce around on screen. It features surprises, action, hot chicks in tight outfits doing bizarre dance moves and presents all of it creatively. I'm all for that.

It's not a perfect movie by any means. It has some serious flaws (pacing, bad edits, some crappy dialogue, disappointing action scenes), but it is fun and not the stupefyingly dumbed down sci-fi flick we all expected it to be. Æon Flux may not be for all tastes, but it definitely put a smile on my face.

3 out of 5


*written 12/2/05

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