Reel Opinions

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Aeon Flux

How could something so ludicrous take itself so seriously? That's the question that kept on popping up in my mind while watching Aeon Flux. Here is a movie that features killer grass, women who have an extra pair of arms and hands where their legs should be, and a girl whose hair makes her look like the long lost twin sister of comedian Carrot Top, and yet no one cracks a smile, nor is a single light moment to be found. Aeon Flux is a silly movie that takes itself so seriously that you can't help but laugh. The entire cast deserves some kind of award for keeping a straight face the entire time. Maybe it's because the director is Karyn Kusama, a woman who only has one independent film to her credit (Girlfight), and she thought she was making an overly serious indie drama when she was supposed to be making a fun popcorn flick. Whatever the reason, the film ends up being a joyless, tedious mess packed to the brim with every sci-fi cliche in the book.

Set in a utopian future that looks like every sci-fi utopian society cliche crossed with a living modern art painting, this society was crafted by a man named Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) after a fatal disease wiped out nearly the entire population of the Earth in the year 2011. He created a "perfect" society that is heavily patrolled by armed guards who look like they're wearing futuristic bike helmets over their heads, and is run by a government that looks like they took inspiration on the design of their meeting area from the Jedi Council. Despite the seemingly-perfect society, there is a dark underside. People disappear under mysterious circumstances, and anyone who questions the government is immediately made a target. That's where our heroine comes in. Young Aeon (Charlize Theron) is a member of a violent rebel group, bent on bringing down the Goodchild Regime. She takes mental orders from a mysterious woman (Frances McDormand) whose hair is so utterly ridiculous, you wonder how any of the rebels take orders from her without cracking up at the very sight of her, or without asking how Carrot Top's doing. When Aeon Flux's sister, Una (Amelia Warner) is gunned down by the government after being mistaken for a rebel, Aeon swears vengeance.

Aeon is given the priority mission of killing Trevor Goodchild, but when she confronts him, the man seems to recognize her, and addresses her as "Cathrine". The confusion leads to her capture, and during her escape, Aeon comes across evidence that perhaps there is something much deeper at work. She is haunted by mysterious dreams as she sleeps that seem to hint at another life and another time - a time where she was in love with Trevor. The deeper she goes, she begins to question her loyalty to the rebel army, and begins to wonder if perhaps things are what they seem. Her quest for the truth will uncover a vast cloning plan, and a conspiracy set forth by Trevor's brother, Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) to not only take control of the Regime, but to also keep mankind from progressing past its current state.

Aeon Flux's plot is so convoluted and full of needless plot twists, double identities, and betrayals that I felt kind of lost up till about the 50 minute mark when the character of Trevor oh so kindly finally clued us in as to what this movie was supposed to be about. Up till then, I thought it was about people who didn't smile or show any emotion whatsoever (other than anger) who ran around in really bad clothes and hair. The story is complex, but you almost can't concentrate on it due to the filmmakers' insistence of creating one of the most unintentionally hilarious futuristic societies ever put on film. It's not just the god awful clothes and hair, it's the technology, much of which the movie doesn't even bother to explain. In one scene, Aeon is in prison, and is given a glass of water. Thinking the water might be contaminated with something, she tilts her head back. When she shows her face to us again, her eye has suddenly turned into a giant black pupil, and she can see what toxins or poisons the water might contain. No explanation is given as to what gives Miss Flux this ability, nor does she ever use it again. I guess we're just supposed to accept it. Oh, and in this world, people can inject maps of underground tunnels into their arms, so that their skin takes the form of a map. All of this technology is thrown up at the screen without any rhyme, reason, or explanation. They just simply say "Don't worry, your arm can be used as a map to make your way through". Oh, okay.

It's not just the world I had a problem with, it's the people that inhabit it. Not only does everyone dress like they're auditioning for a live action Jetsons movie, everyone is so dire, dour, and serious that you almost think their heads are going to explode if they crack a smile or display any kind of expression other than fear, concern, or "I'm gonna kick your ass"-style anger. I fail to see how this can be a perfect world if a straight man cannot express happiness when making love to Charlize Therron. That's not a future I want to live in. Because of this, everyone comes across as stiff and robotic instead of as humans. It's hard to attach yourself to Aeon's fight to avenge the death of her sister when she reacts to the sight of her sibling's body being wheeled out on a gurney almost like the way you react to a wad of chewing gum lying on the pavement. I don't blame the actors, many of whom have done fine work in the past. I blame it on a director who took the material much too seriously, thought she was making an art film, and had everyone walk around looking tortured and depressed, even during the action sequences that are supposed to be thrilling us, but instead simply make us stare at the screen in quiet disinterest. Now, I'm not saying this movie had to be goofy and packed with one liners. I'm just saying a little bit of fun could have gone a long way with this film.

Aeon Flux is not a terrible movie, just one that was looked at the wrong way. This movie needed to be handled by someone who knows how to thrill an audience and have a good time with a film's subject matter, while not sacrificing the drama of the storyline. The fact that the movie takes itself so seriously yet makes itself look so silly is a grave miscalculation that brought about many unintentional laughs from me. It takes too long to explain itself, it's overblown and melodramatic when it should be light and exciting, and the only amusement comes at thinking how the actors must have been fighting a losing battle over not cracking a smile while shooting some of this stuff. This feels like a movie that should be getting a small release early in the year (January to March) instead of a full blown holiday release. The fact that Paramount isn't screening this film for critics all but rams this point home. With Narnia and King Kong coming up in the next few weeks, this movie's gonna seem like an even bigger joke than it already is.

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