Mar 23, 2016
Aeon Flux (2005)
Aeon Flux (2005) is the film adaptation of the series of the same name that aired on MTV back in the ‘90s. Created by animator Peter Chung, it started out as a series of vignettes shown on Liquid Television, MTV’s short-lived and long-remembered showcase for avant-garde animation. Set in a bizarre, dystopian future, Aeon Flux featured a nearly-naked female spy and/or terrorist infiltrating various military-like compounds for… reasons that we the viewers could only guess at. There was zero dialogue and zero continuity between the episodes, seen most clearly in the way the main character was killed off in every episode.
Later on, it returned as a full-fledged half-hour series in its own right, this time with dialogue and voice actors and continuity. The main character, now actually named Aeon Flux, was a mercenary from the nation of Monica, who would go on various missions to the neighboring totalitarian state of Bregna, ruled by her main foe (and occasional lover) Trevor Goodchild. And… well, to be honest, the plots of the half-hour show didn’t make a whole lot more sense than the original, wordless serial.
The movie was made without the involvement of creator Peter Chung and completely tosses aside most of what was set up in the series. In fact, it seems the movie is mostly an adaptation of just one episode that involves cloning and a character with extreme body modifications. Of course, it’s entirely possible the movie borrows heavily from other episodes, but I wouldn’t know, because three episodes of the half-hour series were unfortunately all I could take. Sorry!
I’m guessing the enduring appeal of Aeon Flux is mostly in the character designs and the distinct animation style (with its kinky, fetishistic overtones), and not in the actual storyline, which is pretty much incomprehensible. So it’s hard to know what they hoped to accomplish by adapting this show into a live-action film.
We start off with a caption that informs us that a deadly illness wiped out 99% of the planet’s population in the future year of… wait for it… 2011. A scientist named Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) created a cure, and now, 400 years later, the remaining humans are all living in a city called Bregna, which is currently ruled by Trevor Goodchild and his family. No, there’s not the slightest bit of explanation here for how Goodchild is still alive 400 years later. (Of course, if you’ve been reading carefully, you already know this movie’s big secret plot twist.)
The movie proper opens with a recreation of the now famous shot where our main character Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) captures a fly in her eyelashes. We hear her in voiceover repeating everything the opening crawl already told us.
She tells us about life in Bregna, which on the surface seems to be a utopian city, but behind closed doors, it’s nothing more than a police state that aims to control the every move of its citizens. People are constantly disappearing without a trace, and most of the population experiences strange memories of things that never happened. There’s a resistance called the Monicans, a rebel group intent on destroying the Goodchild regime. (Yes, they’re still called “Monicans”, even though in this movie, there’s no such place as Monica.)
Also, there’s some kind of blimp-thing hovering over the city as a reminder of the people lost to the virus, or possibly as a tribute to Goodchild’s cure, or something. Obviously, this thing will be important later.
Aeon is a member of the Monican resistance, of course, and is able to communicate with the other Monicans telepathically. We see her tongue-kiss a random guy, allowing a pill to pass between their mouths (actually a reference to the opening shot of one of the animated shorts) which activates something in Aeon’s brain. Soon, she’s visualizing a ornate room where she takes orders from a glowing Frances McDormand.
After a completely nonsensical “mission”, Aeon returns home to find her pregnant sister Una (a name randomly taken from another character in the series) has been killed because the Goodchild regime believed her to be a Monican. With the death of her sister heavy on her mind, Aeon sets out to fulfill her new orders, which are to assassinate Trevor Goodchild.
Aeon must cross a heavily fortified garden to get to the compound where Goodchild resides. Assisting her in this is Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), who’s had her feet surgically transformed into hands. Which really raises a whole lot of questions about how that works, exactly. Admittedly, this is something that comes directly from the series (though, the character on the show was “Scaphandra”) and it was pretty damn goofy there, too.
With the help of Sithandra and some really incompetent security guards, Aeon makes into the Goodchild compound and gets to Trevor without a whole lot of difficulty. But Aeon is taken aback at the sight of him, and the way he keeps calling her “Katherine”. Trevor somehow feels very familiar to her, leading Aeon to ignore the orders of the Monicans and begin trusting him.
With Trevor on Aeon’s side, she manages to figure out one of the biggest mysteries of the city, which is that everyone is a clone. The cure that saved the human race actually caused everyone to become infertile. In order to keep humanity going, Trevor and his brother Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) are creating fake pregnancies where they recycle everyone’s DNA. And Aeon just happens to be a clone of a Trevor’s wife Katherine from 400 years ago.
With several centuries to figure out the infertility problem, Trevor has finally stumbled on a way to help women get pregnant naturally. Unfortunately, Oren isn’t quite ready to end his reign, and it turns out he ordered all pregnant women to be killed, including Aeon’s sister Una.
We learn that he and Trevor have been cloning themselves over and over, with each brother passing on his memories and knowledge to his clone, thus achieving a kind of immortality—though, they haven’t achieved actual immortality (each clone still ages and dies), but this small detail seems to have flown over Oren’s head.
Aeon is distraught by this information and for some reason decides she must destroy the blimp-thing which floats above the city. And not only is the Goodchild regime trying to stop her, but also the other Monicans, who have branded her a traitor. Once she gets aboard the blimp, she discovers it actually stores the DNA of all residents of Bregna. Yes, the Goodchilds kept the key piece of evidence of their diabolical schemes hovering in plain sight. Why not have all the DNA locked up underground or something?
Inside the blimp, Aeon meets the “Keeper” (Pete Postlethwaite in a… cocoon?) who reveals he “kept” her DNA all these years even though Oren wanted it destroyed.
As you’d expect, Aeon’s plan is successful. She crashes the blimp-thing, and now the entire population of Bregna gets their first glimpse of the world outside of the protective wall.
If you’re into anime, or the original anime-inspired series, then you’ll probably feel right at home with the terse, awkward dialogue. Most of the conversations in the film feel completely forced, though it’s hard to tell if that’s due more to the poor writing or terrible acting. Since we already know Theron is a talented actress, I’m going with the former.
In particular, we’re supposed to be watching two people rekindling a romance from 400 years ago, but the actors have no chemistry at all. Aeon constantly seems annoyed by Trevor, while Trevor is entirely indifferent towards Aeon. Sure, they’re saying the right words, but the actual feelings seem to be nonexistent, and yet he’s supposedly been pining over her for centuries?
The action sequences rely way too much on slow-motion to make things look “cool” (clearly, this was one of many actions films released in the early-to-mid 2000s trying hard to be The Matrix). And while they pay homage to the original series in a few scenes, most of these references just look stupid in a live-action context. There’s the hands-for-feet thing, of course, and also a nod towards the way the animated Aeon would often use her tongue in strange ways, which is just cringe-inducing here.
Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body) was obviously attempting to match the trippy visuals of the show, and every now and then, there’s a striking, memorable image. But these moments are far outweighed by the dull “generic dystopian future” style that dominates the visual design, sets, and costumes.
And there’s a whole lot of information that seems to have been intentionally left out, just to make the movie seem deeper and more profound than it really is, just like the original show (and The Matrix too, of course). For one thing, it doesn’t really become apparent until late in the movie that the Monicans communicate telepathically. Up until then, it seems more like Aeon’s own personal hallucinations. And she has several body modifications (a phone implanted in her ear, a strange black eyeball that can see toxins in the water) that come out of nowhere. I guess they were going for the “making simple things as cryptic as possible” motif of the series, not realizing that it didn’t really work all that well on the show, either.
If you’re not a fan of the original series, Aeon Flux will probably leave you confused and bewildered. If you are a fan of the original series, you’ll be confused, bewildered, and probably a bit angry. About the only good thing that came from this movie was a DVD release of the entire animated series, where you can fully immerse yourself in early ‘90s MTV nostalgia.
[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]