Saturday, March 04, 2006

Aeon Flux

[This is a double post of Trashy Sci-Fi actioners which not only have similar poster art, are films which have similar strengths and weaknesses. Also, I'm an unabashed fan of Peter Chung's original MTV incarnation of AEON FLUX, and my review (which was posted to a during the original AEON FLUX run in December 2005) inevitably keeps coming back to the TV show, and (for better or worse) makes no attempt to assess the film as a stand-alone vehicle, there may be a mild *SPOILER* or two in there as well.]

“It looks like nature found a way” -- A line of dialogue, which is one of perhaps two unintentional Spielberg references in AEON FLUX, puts the film nicely in the sphere of the biological science fiction. One thing nicely ported over from the anarchic animated TV series is Peter Chung’s sense of biotech gone wild.

Scissor like flesh seeking blades of grass and some kind of technological fruit-on-the-vine capable of firing poison loaded darts at both a high rate and velocity offer both a visual thrill and botanical challenge for Aeon and her friend who was forward thinking to have her feet surgically replaced with hands for an acrobatic edge. Aeon and fellow Monican rebels do not need to meet in a clandestine location, but rather take a pill and meet their leader in some sort of pharmacological state of being. Phones are implanted directly into the ear, video-email can be sent by spores in a glass of water.

In the 10 episode TV series, there was never an attempt at narrative continuity either within a show or across the series. Each episode more or less had Aeon attempting to thwart one scheme or another of Bregnan Scientist-Ruler Trevor Goodchild, but at the same time dealing with her lust for him. The film does have the feel of an extended episode except that the story is structured in a far more straightforward manner, somewhat amplified in scale suitable for a feature. Elaborate, vaguely asian architecture and costume design give you a very interesting world to look at. It was a smart move to set the film away from the Orwellian model of dark and dreary distopia, even if the visual palette occasionally treads into Sci-Fi Channel TV-Movie territory.

Bregna, the last civilized outpost, is a police state walled in from the dangers of the rest of the world (a flirting comment on US domestic policy scaled another 400 years out?). But it is not the war on terror, rather the poison terrarium that is the rest of the planet. It seems 400 years prior, the rest of the planets population succumbed to a vague industrial disease (shades of Todd Haynes’ Safe) that was later cured by a distant ancestor of the current Chairman. Despite seemingly unlimited Biotechnology, fear of disease prevents citizens from venturing out into the wild greenery beyond Bregna’s walls. The cities population is having strange dreams and people are disappearing. A domestic terrorist movement, known as the Monicans (of which Aeon is a key member) are a threat to shall we say, national security. Aeon is given fist a mission to destroy the massive surveillance system used on the population. Then she is given orders to assassinate Chairman Goodchild.

The kill/kiss dynamic between Aeon and Trevor from the show is muted, insofar as Marton Csokas’ Goodchild is neither menacing nor diabolical, merely aloof. Despite being compared to Chairman Mao via propaganda billboards scattered around the city-scape of Bregna and a Worholian collage in his secret laboratory, there is an inexplicit lack of villainy (and dare we say, honest to goodness sympathy) in Trevor. Perhaps this is a result of dividing his character from the TV series into two. Co-Chair of Bregna is Trevor’s treacherous brother Oren (played by Johnny Lee ‘Sickboy’ Miller, sans Sean Connery accent). Oren is evil and not really that interesting. Why the split into two? Both suffer for it.

Where Aeon Flux really suffers is in the loss of whimsical levels of carnage omni-present in the cartoon, especially the wordless Liquid Television shorts. Oh, there is nothing wrong with Charlize Theron’s appearance, even if it is a fair bit different than the familiar dominatrix outfit. What is missing is he joy of just being Aeon Flux and good at what she does: The haughty superiority of being ‘above it all’ until one thing or another (typically her lust for Trevor) brings her back down to the filth and imperfection of humanity. Screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have given a reason for her isolated toughness, a sister which from the outset you know is doomed, but you’d think director Karyn Kusama would have given said sister more than 2 minutes screen time. That is one sign of directorial clumsiness and editing the fight sequences like Mark Steven Johnson’s inept Daredevil does the film no favours. With no shortage of imported Asian stunt choreographers, from Donnie Yen to Siu-Tung Ching to Woo-ping Yuen, doing work in a variety of Hollywood films, Aeon deserved better.
Aeon’s effortlessness with her acrobatics is just not on display. The TV show made her over-confident and playfully punished that attitude by killing her as often as letting her live, here she is much more hesitant and uncertain, but nearly always successful. I just prefer the former.

Ultimately though, Aeon Flux aims to move past the comic-book action film which is the basis of the films advertisement and into sci-fi concepts (shades of the Matrix, which no doubt was in large part inspired by the original Aeon Flux series). It is more successful here, although to further elaborate would be heading full on into spoiler territory. The film is not the unmitigated disaster that the lack of press-screenings (and subsequent press reaction because of those lack of screenings) implies. I’d bet a few dollars that if the film was not an expensive affair featuring two Oscar winning actress or it was simply buried like say Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners or Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium it would achieve ‘overlooked’ status in a few years. Instead it AEON is bound to be compared to Catwoman, which is undeserved. The overall package is sporadically entertaining if not truly outstanding. And yes, it provided fans of the original show with a top shelf DVD release. Thank-you Paramount.

Post Script:

For completeness sake, what was the other Spielberg reference? This may be stretching, but Aeon Flux more than once stretches the level of brutality of the PG-13 rating. Where Temple of Doom (which stretched the PG to the breaking point and all-but created the PG-13 rating) had villian Mola Ram reach his hand physically into a body to remove a still beating heart, Ms Flux plunges a digit or two into the wounds Trevor Goodchild in an attempt to remove a bullet or two, and the scene carries a nice sexual undertone which is certainly in keeping with the spirit of Aeon Flux. The film version needed more of this.


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