WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
The year is 2415 and only 5 million people remain on earth. 400 years ago a global plague killed 99% of the human race. The survivors retreated to the walled city-state of Bregna, ruled by the congress of scientists who saved them from the plague. But, while Bregna appears to be a perfect society, its utopian surface hides dark secrets. Its people appear to be free, but in reality they are ruled with an iron fist. There is a resistance movement - the Monicans - led by a mysterious figure known as The Handler (Frances McDormand). She and her operatives, like the deadly Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) and her pupil Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), have vowed to wipe out the repressive government of Bregna and restore freedom to humanity - no matter what the cost.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
When big Hollywood studios refuse to preview a film to critics before they release it, it's usually a very bad sign. It usually means they have such a stinker on their hands that their only hope is to crank up the marketing and get as many people into the theatre on the first weekend, because no one is going to recommend this film to anyone after they have seen it. Of course this approach nearly guarantees bad reviews for the film, as the angry critics get their revenge on the naughty studio once they finally get to see the film.
But in the case of Aeon Flux you have to wonder what they were so worried about. Yes, it's a decidedly below average outing for everyone concerned. Yes, the hairstyles are unspeakably silly and the action sequences are limp and generic. Yes, it betrayed the fan base of the original MTV animated series on which it's based. But the film is still tolerable and even quite watchable for sci-fi aficionados.
What saves the film from descending into utter drek is its interesting ideas (like terrorists who meet their leader only through drug-induced telepathy) and its above average production design. The city of Bregna looks suitably modern and futuristic, while at the same time pulsing with an engaging organic reality. You almost wish someone else would set a better film there, so that you can enjoy the same scenery in a more interesting movie.
Don't be misled though - Aeon Flux isn't good by any objective standards. The positive aspects of the film (Charlize Theron's scantily clad bod for one) just don't come together into any kind of cohesive whole. They are dragged down by indifferent performances (most of the cast look, frankly, bored), erratic pacing, flabby cinematography and clumsy dialogue. Director Karyn Kusama, who won acclaim for her tough independent hit Girlfight, grapples with the material but doesn't create any real sense of tension or mystery.
A lot of overseas criticism focuses on how badly the material suffered in its adaptation from the original MTV animated series. Since most South Africans (including me) haven't seen the show, a lot of its most compelling ideas are new to us - a fact that may help to keep local audiences intrigued rather than appalled. That said, the film still comes across as a poor man's cross between The Matrix and Gattaca.
This is really a film for tolerant sci-fi fans, and not for a general audience in search of light entertainment. It requires you to be interested enough in the material to be able to look past its faults. Avid Charlize fans might get some enjoyment out it, but be warned, it's no fun seeing one's idol brought low by such an undignified project. Her bod may be bodacious - but it's not worth the R30 or even the 90 minutes.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: