“The future is Flux” (not, you know, in flux…)
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Starring Charlize Theron, Marton Csokas, Johnny Lee Miller, Frances McDormand and a shit tonne of British character actors doing American accents for no readily apparent reason
400 years after a plague caused the collapse of civilisation, the last surviving city, Brega, is still ruled by the dynasty whose founder cured the plague. As Brega becomes an increasingly oppressive dystopia, a resistance emerges; their deadliest agent a woman named Aeon Flux (Theron).
After the death of her sister, Flux is driven to avenge her by assassinating the Chairman of Brega, Trevor Goodchild (Csokas), under orders from her Handler (McDormand). But the situation is more complicated than any of the ‘Monican’ resistance know, and they are actually aiding coup by Trevor’s more ruthless brother Oren (Miller).
What’s wrong with it?
The film’s plot is frankly scattershot, throwing ideas at the screen and sort of catching the audience up with flashbacks and exposition. It’s kind of trying to fit in a lot more material than it really has time for, and the result is uneven.
There are a couple of set pieces where Aeon has to bypass the Bregan security systems, but they lack much sense of peril, especially since we are not given any overview of the security beforehand, in the manner of a heist movie.
The city of Brega is full of British actors with American accents. As this is a city occupied by all the survivors of Earth, I’m not sure why they all have to be American, especially when the actors aren’t. It is especially notable when flashback Oren sounds completely English. I don’t know if this is deliberate and the accents are supposed to be ‘the Bregan twang’, but surely social pressure would tend to emphasise the ruling elite’s accent?
It’s never explained why the resistance are the Monicans. There isn’t any sign of a Monica anywhere. (In the original anime, Monica was a rival city.)
Aeon’s motives are… complicated. After her sister is killed ten minutes in, it’s all about revenge, but she was already a Monican. What happened to that motivation?
Aeon also has some really dumb outfits; the worst is her pyjamas, which basically consist of a pair of pants and two strings of beads which sort of cling conveniently to her breasts and fortunately don’t wrap around her throat and choke her in her sleep.
What’s right with it?
Although rushed and not always successful, the plot is at least coherent, and the fight scenes well-choreographed and relatively balanced. Aside from a few luckless sentries, there are no curb-stomps.
The post-apocalyptic concept is… perhaps not clever, but less dumb than many. In short, the cure left the human race sterile and the Goodchild Dynasty have been cloning people in secret ever since.
How bad is it really?
Aeon Flux is a bit of a mess, but it isn’t a terrible film. The accents are distracting, but the actors are mostly pretty good. Ultimately, the problem is a triumph of style over substance, such that even the style feels hollow and dull.
Best bit (if such there is)?
As with a lot of almost-successful films, one of the problems is an absence of real stand out moments. There are a lot of flashy gadgets and effects, but nothing that really pops.
What’s up with…?
- The Relical? The vital control centre of the Goodchild Dynasty is in a hugely visible and vulnerable dirigible that circles the city dangling climbing lines.
- Aeon’s destruction of the Relical? She plants bombs with no timer and then slides down the ropes as it explodes, despite it being apparent that Trevor has a quick and non-suicidal way of getting in and out; so quick in fact that he is able to reach the address where her reborn sister lives in the time it takes her to bend down and pick up a baby.
- The ultratech? It’s made clear that the plague struck in the 21st century, limiting the human race to the resources of a single city, and yet in four centuries of the same people forming the scientific elite over and over and focusing their efforts on restoring human fertility, they have developed nigh-impossible nanotech. Perhaps more to the point, with all the body hacks the Monicans can do, how have they not noticed the sterility issue?
Production values – The film is pretty slick, and if anything it is too clean; there is no dirt in Brega, even in places where people are getting cut to ribbons. 9
Dialogue and performances – The performances are good, but dogged by those nagging accent issues. The dialogue is… okay, but no more than that. 8
Plot and execution – The plot is rushed; it’s too busy for the time allotted, and requires a lot of heavy exposition scenes in between the action sequences. 14
Randomness – The gadgets are a pretty mixed bag, but there is at least an overarching theme of nano- and bio-technology. The exception is the weird spatial shift octopus which provides the door to Trevor’s laboratory. 9
Waste of potential – Based on a madly successful avant garde animation and featuring an array of talent (Kusama’s debut, Girlfight was a critical success,) this could have been a lot better, but it’s not the worst thing ever. Or maybe I just watched it the day after Ultraviolet. 12