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"Aeon Flux": Unanimated Action

Surely there are few television series trickier to mold into a PG-13 film than MTV’s cult animated hit Aeon Flux. Full of over the top violence and sexuality and with no coherent plot in sight, animator Peter Chung’s franchise doubtlessly presented the filmmakers with a daunting challenge. The live action Aeon Flux is a mildly entertaining sci-fi thriller, but only faintly resembles the source material.

Guess the perfect world is windyTo the film’s credit, it does craft an intriguing and socially relevant plot, something the cartoon never pursued to any great degree. It’s a pity the execution is rather pedestrian, though. Most notably, the outlandish inventiveness of the cartoon is toned way down for an overly vanilla and conventional approach. Obviously the rating was a concern, but imagination needn’t have become a casualty. Numerous characters are reduced to clichés by weak development, and the film has a sterile, museum-like look. The action is competent but never really exciting, and it doesn’t help that much of it occurs in tension-free locations like sunny, picturesque gardens. Despite enough plot and characters to easily fill two hours, the film peters out after a mere 85 minutes.

In the 25th century, the residents of the seemingly utopian city Bregna are all that remains of the human race, otherwise exterminated by a plague. Bregna’s benevolent but authoritarian government is ruled by Trevor Goodchild (Martin Csokas), who having found a cure for the plague has become a nearly god-like figure. However, numerous citizens are being mysteriously abducted, and the government refuses to take any action.

In response an underground resistance group known as the Monicans fights to overthrow Goodchild’s regime. Their most talented and lethal agent is Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron), for whom the conflict becomes personal when security forces murder her sister. With fierce determination she begins her most vital mission: to assassinate Goodchild. However, when they come face to face she feels an undeniable attraction instead of hate, as if they’d known each other before. It turns out Goodchild’s brother Oren (Johnny Lee Miller) has been manipulating the Monicans to dispatch his sibling, who is threatening the comfortable status quo with his research efforts to cure the harmful aftereffects of the vaccine.

I said I was wearing black!No one really impresses in the acting department, but Theron and Csokas do decent work. Since their relationship turns out to be such a key element of the story, it could certainly have stood further exploration. It goes without saying Theron is a fantastic looking Aeon, if regrettably dressed a little more conservatively than her animated counterpart. Miller and Aeon’s partner Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo) are among several important characters made two-dimensional by a criminal dearth of screen time. At least they come off better than Monican leader Frances McDormand, who looks like a sanctimonious Carrot Top with her ridiculous mountain of blazing red hair.

The most interesting action scene has to be Aeon’s battle with Goodchild’s top agent. Struggling for control of some sort of teleportation device leading to Goodchild’s secret lab, the duo flash back and forth between two locations as they systematically destroy both with a combination of martial arts and gunfire. Otherwise Aeon whacks a lot of faceless guards in a violent but not exceptionally thrilling fashion, and there’s a very silly scene in which Aeon and Sithandra have to evade a barrage of needles from what appear to be homicidal fruit.

Come into the light AeonFlux probably should have taken the Matrix approach and gone with an R rating. It’s not as if the softer rating did it much good at the box office. With an R, the film could have gone into some of the weirder and perhaps uncomfortable areas of the show and really distinguish itself from the herd. The source material is compellingly edgy enough to have created another Sin City.

The healthy use of practical locations thankfully keeps green screen to a minimum, although as noted many of these locations are a bit bland. For a sci-fi film, the effects department isn’t very noticeable, except for one neat visual when Aeon blows up a data bank that displays security film feeds as ripples in a pool of water. The film’s most obvious nod to the cartoon is the trademark moment when Aeon catches a fly with her eyelashes, although it looks more halfhearted than creepy. I don’t normally pay much attention to costuming, but the tacky clichés on display here seem ripped from an early 90s flick like Demolition Man. Aeon herself fares better, especially with a riveting sleepwear ensemble.

Both of the disc’s commentaries are excellent. The first with Theron and producer Gale Anne Hurd has many practical details about the locations and production challenges, such as Theron suffering a herniated disc. Next screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi give a detailed analysis of the adaptation, with many remarks about how the studio forced them to cut key characterization to keep the pace up.

Also interesting is “Creating a World,” which discusses the cartoon adaptation and the choice of an organic visual theme. “The Locations of Aeon Flux” visits all the major shooting locations in Berlin (chosen partly as it was a divided city like the one on the show), from 18th century estates to a 1930s wind tunnel.

Goodchild and Aeon getting a lead greetingThe other extras can safely be ignored. Instead of analyzing how the stunts were executed, “The Stunts of Aeon Flux” focuses on endless testimonials from the crew about how Theron did it all herself and worked so hard blah blah blah… . “Costume Design” might entertain any dressmakers who happen to be stuck on a flight airing the film, and “The Craft of the Set” is unlikely to captivate anyone without an obsessive interest in photographic equipment.

Aeon Flux earns some points for creating one of the better action heroine vehicles in recent memory, easily besting Elektra, Catwoman, and Tomb Raider. However, if not an outright train wreck like those films, it is equally guilty of squandering the potential of a promising franchise. Fans wanting a true Aeon fix will have to stick to the animated variety. Hopefully someday a studio will give Chung the budget, R rating, and gravity defying bikini technology he needs to do her justice.

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