In the year 2415, what’s left of mankind — most everyone was offed 400 years earlier by something called “the industrial virus” (which would make a good name for an acid house band) — lives in a walled matte painting that’s supposed to be a city called Bregna. When seen in three-dimensional bits and pieces, Bregna looks a lot like an abandoned World’s Fair pavillion designed to portray a futuristic utopia.
Of course, since this is a sci-fi film, utopia is really dystopia. Not only are people disappearing for no apparent reason, but the entire populace is suffering from some strange and unsettling ailment, which on the surface appears to be Bad Dialogue Syndrome. A band of rebels called the Monicans are determined to overthrow the evil government set up by Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas, Kingdom of Heaven), who discovered the cure for “the industrial virus” 400 years ago.
Whether or not the Trevor Goodchild who rules Bregna at the time of the film is the exact same Trevor Goodchild who found the cure, or a clone of him, is never made clear. But if it’s the former, he looks pretty good for 440. If it’s the latter, the storyline is even harder to swallow than the likelihood of a 440-year-old man. Perhaps this state of preservation is why he feels compelled to have every square inch of Bregna plastered with Chairman Mao-like posters of himself (if Mao had hair by Vidal Sassoon and a taste for being depicted like Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe silkscreens).
Enter into this Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron), a rebel with a cause and a wardrobe that looks like she went to Diana Rigg’s yard sale and bought up all her old Avengers costumes. Aeon might be called the Last Word of the Monicans, since she’s one mean fighting machine, who, of course, can’t be stopped by even hordes of Bregnan soldiers and all the hi-tech booby-trappery this advanced civilization can produce. (It helps, of course, that in the tradition of all movies of this sort, the soldiers can’t hit the broadside of a Bregnan barn.)
Aeon — and the rest of Monicans — gets her orders from meetings held in the cerebral cortex of her brain (thanks to cheesy animation), where she hobnobs with the Handler (Frances McDormand) — a completely undefined leader who sports a mass of tangled red tresses that give new meaning to the old Alberto V05 commercials about “dry, fly-away hair.” Apparently, hair-conditioner and brushes are hard to come by when you live inside people’s brains. Circumstances arrive (or are engineered) when it becomes practical to send Aeon and her sidekick, Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo, Dirty Pretty Things), who has just had her feet replaced with an extra set of hands in order to assassinate Goodchild (and with any luck, bring back some styling gel).
However, when Aeon comes face to face with the fellow, she can’t bring herself to kill him. Why? Well, that’s part of the plot, as is the reason that the assassination attempt was possible in the first place (hint: sibling devotion does not run high in ruling families). Aeon quickly learns that all is not as it seems in Bregna and that everything she thinks she knows is wrong — or at least very distorted.
It won’t take the viewer much effort to guess the truth, either, since the screenplay dearly loves clunky expository dialogue (it’s no shock that screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi also penned the Jackie Chan vehicle The Tuxedo) of the sort where characters have to remind each other that they’re brothers so the audience will know.
Generally speaking, the cast is wasted or misused to degrees that verge on the height of personal embarrassment. The wonderful Sophie Okonedo spends a large chunk of the film trussed up underwater in a stagnant pond breathing through a hollow reed engineered by Aeon (apparently she’s seen her share of Tarzan movies and old serials). Charlize Theron stalks through the picture in a state of perpetual glumness that suggests she signed on for this without reading the script or seeing the costumes. And poor Pete Postelwaite spends the entire movie wearing what appears to be some sort of giant scrotum costume while riding around in a floating laboratory with something like a jellyfish dangling from it.
Most of the action makes little sense, or is grounded in complete illogic — like having Aeon wander around Bregna wearing outfits that are bound to draw attention to her, or undertake a night raid dressed entirely in white, or decide that walking into the middle of an open square when people are shooting at her is a savvy move.
There’s some talk that the movie is ultimately about female empowerment, but I have trouble buying that in a film where the obvious raison d’etre is to snag an audience of 14-year-old boys by dressing Theron in kinky and/or scanty outfits designed to show as much breast as a PG-13 rating will allow. Moreover, it’s nothing new under the sun. Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel did all this 40 years ago in The Avengers — and managed to be witty, sophisticated and intelligent in the bargain. The best Theron’s character can do is look grim and engage in martial arts battles. This is a step forward?
Director Karyn Kusama (whose previous film, Girlfight, is highly praised, but little seen) tries to cover it all with a lot of zip and flash in the camerawork and the editing, but it can’t mask the absurdity of it all — nor the fact that we’ve seen it all before in countless sci-fi flicks. The movie’s tag line is, “The Future Is Flux.” Personally, I think they left the “ed” off that last word, and it’s not only the future that’s in this state, but the movie itself. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and sexual content.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke