It’s never a positive sign when a studio decides not to provide advance screenings of a high budget production to critics, as was the case with this weekend’s only major release, Aeon Flux. Usually, it means that despite all the money they’ve invested (including Charlize Theron’s $10 million payday, the film cost a reported $75 million to make), studio execs know the final result is going to be a major disappointment to both audiences and reviewers.
But Aeon Flux is not as bad as Paramount’s keep-it-under-wraps-until-opening-weekend strategy might imply. Of course, it’s not that good either.
Just as in the animated MTV series the movie is based on, scantily-dressed Aeon Flux (Theron) is the future’s deadliest assassin. However, for the big screen version, we’re finally told who Aeon is assassinating and why.
In the year 2011, an “industrial disease” wipes out all but one percent of the population. The remaining five million then fall under the rule of the Goodchild dynasty, a family of scientists credited with keeping the survivors alive. To instill order and protect their people, the Goodchilds demand that everyone reside in the utopian city of Bregna. Fast forward to the year 2415, and—as eventually happens with all totalitarian governments—a band of resistors called “Monicans” rises up to overthrow Trevor Goodchild’s rule and restore freedom to the populace.
To this end, the Monican leader (an inexplicably snaggle-haired Frances McDormand) calls in Aeon to take out Trevor (Marton Csokas) by any means necessary. A face-to-face meeting with Trevor, however, reveals that the situation is not as black-and-white as it seems, and Aeon must reevaluate her loyalties.
The best sci-fi films are peopled with characters the audience can identify with and thus care about. Sure, they reside in the future or a galaxy far, far away, but they still experience the same love, anger, and laughs we do in the here and now.
The worst sci-fi films, on the other hand, feature characters that behave as if they know they’re living in “the future” or a galaxy far, far away and therefore speak all their dialogue in flat, humorless, vaguely English monotone. No one has any fun moments of casual contact, because every person and interaction between people has a suffocating sense of “destiny” imposed on them. Think The Empire Strikes Back compared to The Phantom Menace.
Unfortunately, Aeon Flux falls into the latter category.
The relationships between the characters feel forced, stilted, and false. We are supposed to accept that we care what happens between Aeon and Trevor and between Aeon and her sister, because the script says we do. But we are never given any background for why we care.
Similarly, the film asks us to feel invested in which side wins—the Goodchilds or the Monicans—without providing any of the history between the two.
When a major character defects from the totalitarian regime, there’s no moment of surprise. We don’t know enough about either side to feel shocked by it. This is probably because the film is so focused on showcasing Charlize Theron in a series of skintight unitards, twisting the heads of her adversaries between her thighs, that it doesn’t have time to explain pesky details like how the Monican rebellion formed, how Aeon developed her superhuman powers, and where on earth that strange resistance leader is located that Aeon and her troops can only speak to her in their minds.
It’s really too bad, because another element of good sci-fi stories is that they ask questions relevant to issues society faces today. And Aeon Flux broaches some fairly significant themes it never bothers to develop.
In the Flux future the far left wing gets everything it wants today—human cloning for everyone and extreme population control in the form of no new babies. If nothing else can be said for this film, it proves what a scary world that would be.