More noise than signal

Aeon Flux

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

I’m not sure if it’s a fault with my age-addled brain or the memorability of mid-2000’s Charlize Theron vehicle Aeon Flux that I couldn’t recall much of anything about it. I suppose that’s why I write things down, and 2006’s iteration of Scott Morris appears to have really hated it . 2018’s new and deteriorated version of the Scott Morris Experience is a rather more mellow, or perhaps just more exhausted beast, and can’t bring himself to muster quite the same levels of ire for this flick, even if most of the earlier criticisms are, well, more or less still true.

Aeon Flux adapts the MTV animated series that I’ve seen a few episodes of, but am by no means an expert in. I do know enough to know that it contains some pretty interesting stuff, and would warrant more discussion than we’d be able to go into here to cover properly, but as this is a relatively loose adaptation, I suppose I’ll leave that as an exercise for the interested. This takes a rather more mundane approach to the Aeon Flux world, which is an odd thing to say about a film with a woman who has hands for feet and Pete Postlethwaite dressed as a burrito.

Set in a future that’s seen humanity reduced to one walled city, Bregna, after a virus wipes out the rest of the world, scientist Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) leads the ruling council of what seems on the surface to be a happy populace living in comfort, apart from the odd strange nightmare. However, any hint of rebellion is dealt with swiftly, with the technogestapo “disappearing” anyone suspected of seditious leanings – just like the current Spanish government.

This is the fate that befell the sister of our titular hero, mistaken for Aeon after she joined the underground resistance, the Monicans, named after Courtney Cox’s character in Friends. Rising to become their top assassin, Aeon is eventually tasked with putting her deadly skills to use killing Goodchild.

Meanwhile, Goodchild has his own issues, his brother Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Millar) pushing at the edges of his authority in what’s eventually revealed to be a coup attempt, with him manipulating the resistance into getting rid of his too respected to move against brother. When presented with the opportunity, however, Aeon finds she can’t bring herself to kill him, given pause by flashes of memories that couldn’t have happened.

Well, turns out, and spoiler warning for a thirteen year old film, it did happen, just not in this lifetime. The virus left humanity sterile, and the council of scientists decided the best way forward was to keep this a secret and just keep implanting people with clones in a sort of holding pattern for 400 years until the Goodchild scientific dynasty could come up with a cure. It turns out Trevor just had, and Sick Boy wasn’t too keen on the expected loosening of the reigns of power.

So then, Aeon and Trevor must convince the Monicans of this truth, despite her currently being seen as a traitor, and go up against Sick Boy and his generic jackbooted thugs in order to save what’s left of humanity from this tyranny.

Director Karyn Kusama claims the studio recut the film against her wishes, saying it was too arty to succeed. I’d like to have seen that, as this version, pitched as a sci-fi action film, is pretty bad at the action side of that threat. Curiously, I probably appreciate that side of it more now than on initial release, as at the very least a lot of it isn’t the pure CGI snoozefests that have come to define modern tentpole action films. It’s still below par, though.

Sadly, as is the rest of this film. Again, I can appreciate it more now than then, with the 2018 version of the Scott Morris Experience being much more appreciative of any big-budget multiplex fodder that’s less homogenous than the usual Disney-Marvel-Star Wars entertainment complex outing. And Aeon Flux is certainly different, and there’s some solid sci-fi ideas here that I’d love to have seen explored further.

However, it doesn’t, and the scenes between Csokas and Theron in particular are as flat as a pancake which really undermines the central premise. I like Johnny Lee Miller in a lot of works, most recently Elementary which is by a distance the most enjoyable modern twist on Sherlock Holmes, but this isn’t one of those works.

These days I’d consider this more a failed attempt at something interesting and resignedly move on to watching another generally indistinguishable comic book adaptation – I certainly can’t bring myself to be angry about it, and the 9% Rotten Tomatoes score seems unduly low. Still, I’m certainly not recommending this to anyone apart from hard core science fiction or catsuit enthusiasts.

Incidentally, where on earth did this “genetic memories” trope come from? It is silly.