Cyberpunk Review » Aeon Flux (2005)

May 7, 2006

Aeon Flux (2005)

Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 2005

Directed by: Karyn Kusama

Written by: Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • Aeon Flux: Charlize Theron
  • Trevor Goodchild: Marton Csokas
  • Oren Goodchild: Jonny Lee Miller
  • Sithandra: Sophie Okonedo
  • Rating: 6 out of 10

    Aeon Flux screen capture


    Overview: In the best of cases, remakes of cherished shows rarely turn out good. The MTV Aeon Flux cartoon series was an intensely creative post-modern show by Peter Chung, who broke all the rules of how narratives are supposed to be told. The lead character, Aeon Flux, the ultimate anti-heroine, dies on a regular basis; nobody was purely evil or purely good; and everything was high-tech body modification chaos. Unfortunately, the movie does away with all that. In an attempt to “humanize” the iconic figure of Aeon Flux, the movie version goes for a standard rebels-versus-Orwellian bad guys movie with a twist. While some of the visuals are absolutely terrific (including some wonderful action scenes by Charlize Theron), in the end, this is a very different story with very different characters, and must be understood as such.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    The Story: Aeon Flux takes place 400 years after a virus has devastated humanity, killing off 99% of the population. Now, one walled city named Bregna, holding 5 million people is all that remains of humanity. Bregna is ruled by a council of genetic scientists who have (supposedly) been avidly working on fixing the fallout of the virus for the past 400 years. For reasons only partially explained later in the story, the ruling council has instituted a totalitarian government with an extreme crackdown on personal freedoms, and have backed their authority with an intense surveillance apparatus. A group of rebels called the “Monicans” have challenged their right to rule, and have vowed to destroy the ruling council, especially their leader, Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), at all costs.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) is the Monican’s very athletic, butt-kicking, black spandex wearing operator-extraordinaire. No mission is too dangerous, and no obstacle is insurmountable. In what serves as the prologue, Aeon’s last surviving family member, her sister is killed by the Bregan Council authorities – all that remains for Aeon is revenge and the mission. Finally her time comes when the fiery-haired Monican handler (Frances McDormand) authorizes her to go assassinate Trevor Goodchild. So Aeon and her partner with four hands and no feet, Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), storm the garden and infiltrate the Brega Council compound.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    Unfortunately, as Aeon finally encounters Trevor, not all is at it seems. She suddenly has memories of kissing Trevor in a former life. Worse, it looks like there are other forces at work, and perhaps Trevor isn’t the bad guy the Monicans have made him out to be. As Aeon follows her heart and the ever expanding mystery, she engenders anger from the Monicans, while Trevor ends up at the wrong side of a coup-des-tat at the hands of his evil brother, Oren Goodchild (Jonny Lee Miller).


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    Story Problems: While the front half of the Aeon Flux story works, the back-end is riddled with inconsistencies. If you spend an ounce of time thinking through the motivations, the actions of the main bad guy make no sense. What he really wants (immortality) can be accomplished even Trevor’s experiments prove successful. This is muddied further when the Jurassic Park mantra, “Nature finds a way” is added to the mix. Even weirder is Pete Postlethwaite’s character, who comes across almost as the watcher in a Fantastic Four comic. We are never sure if he is real or Memorex. Worse, his final monologue where he explains his actions adds yet another strange element to the scifi-mix – precognition. In the end, there are too many fantasy-like technologies for this to come across as believable. In brief discussions with on the writers (Phil Hay), it appears that the original script might have been tampered with. I really hope this is the case, as the visuals of the movie were more than strong that they would work for even a passable story.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    Changes With Aeon and Trevor From the Cartoon: The move version of Aeon Flux in no way matches the lead characters of Aeon Flux and Trevor. In Peter Chung’s cartoon, Aeon Flux comes across as the ultimate anti-heroine. While she clearly knows right from wrong, and generally tries to stop the worst abuses, Aeon is an ultra-acrobatic, top-notch action-espionage heroine who works for herself, and only operates under her own agenda. Trevor is a mostly malevolent, superior dictatorial character who as a true soft-spot for Aeon. For her, he will bend his approach, but otherwise he rarely is a nice guy. We rarely see fear, doubt, or self-loathing out of Aeon, although she too has an eternal love for Trevor that trumps all. Kusama’s version of Aeon and Trevor tries to humanize them, and in doing so, removes much of their uniqueness and appeal. New motivations and afflictions are created where none previously existed. Worse, their very nature changes. In the end, Trevor turns out to be a misunderstood hero who works valiantly to save humanity – his only fault is he turns a blind eye to his brother’s excesses. Aeon becomes an agent working for others goals, but only later turns to herself based on principled evaluation of what is right and wrong. Again, while both of these characters may be interesting if done well, they bare little resemblance to the mindset of the Aeon and Trevor characters from the original show.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    Still, I must give credit to Charlize Theron’s athletic feats in this movie. By all accounts she spent 3 months training to be a gymnast and fighter, and it shows. While for the most part she does away with the ultra skimpy clothes from the cartoon, she really does nail the gracefulness and style of the cartoon Aeon Flux. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the humanization approach, Aeon does pull this off very well, especially considering she has very little dialogue. The fact that she got seriously injured on the tenth day of shooting (herniated disc injury), but came back to continue the vast majority of the stunt work is a testament to her commitment and professionalness, and should be applauded. If I had one complaint with her protrayal, she really doesn’t really “look” the part, in that the cartoon character was a taller figure with a far more angular face and tapered hair.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    Editing is Way Too Frantic: Aeon Flux was a very contemplative animated show. Almost always, you had time to properly digest a scene. The atmosphere of the original series is largely based on the pacing. In the movie version, the editing seems designed to artificially hype the tension. In the end, it results in sucking the life out of many of the scenes. You rarely have time to feel connected to the scenes. More often, you feel like you’re riding a roller coaster, even when the scene is nothing more than two people talking.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    The Technologies in Aeon Flux: The body modifications (such as hands replacing feet, and various stuff stored within the skin) in Aeon Flux really added to the visual appeal. Also, there were a number of interesting technological innovations. Probably the biggest was the peer-to-peer interaction in “brain space” that the Monicans use to elude the Orwellian-style surveillance systems that the council has set up. The flat metal slices that turn into semi-autonomous exploding balls were visually cool, as was the room that worked in two dimensions (each dimension of frequency holding completely different items). I also liked the bubbling Band-Aids that Aeon has stored, hiding on her skin.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    The larger technology involved cloning. In Aeon Flux, cloning equates to flawed reincarnation. With each generation the people are cloned, the memories of their lives somehow stay with their soul – yet with each time they are cloned, the new person has memories from the previous versions. Over time, the cloning ends up destroying each other’s reality. For the most part, I don’t think this idea worked all that well. It gets especially troublesome when we look at the Keeper, who seems to be able to “remember forward” and thus, make decisions 400 years ago that will help save the world well into the future.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    The Visuals: Visually, Aeon Flux is a gorgeous movie. We have also sorts of beautiful futuristic city settings, beautiful characters, and really fun FX. Some of the visuals are completely nonsensical though – the most egregious being an early scene involving Aeon wearing white for the ONLY time in the movie when she wants to stealthily sneak into the Brega compound at night. While this helped make Aeon’s character stand out more, it immediately brings a sense of Hollywood unreality to the whole affair. Still, while many of the action scenes didn’t make lots of sense, they were all nicely shot. Some of the fights were pretty gritty, but for the most part, the resembled a gun-version of a kung-fu dance movie.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    Lots of Hawt Chick Fighting! One of the better aspects of Aeon Flux involves the massive amounts of hawt chick fighting! Yes, its low-brow, but we like it. We get some really juicy fights between Aeon and Sithandra, and Aeon and Trevor’s bodyguard, Freya (Caroline Chikezie). And of course we have massive amounts of Charlize Theron in tight black spandex, kicking butt. While some have compared this aspect to Catwoman, the comparisons are unfair in that 1) we don’t have Mouseketeer ears, 2) all the fighters are very athletic, unlike Sharon Stone in Catwoman, and 3) the fight choreography is far far better.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    The Bottom Line: While there enough to like in Aeon Flux to give it a passing grade, I really can’t give it more than that. A movie version of Aeon Flux should have been a creative, postmodern event that stayed true to the cores of the characters in the cartoon. Evidentally, the studio thought an innovative approach such as this wouldn’t fly with the vast movie-going public. What was created instead, even though different, could have been decent, but was mired down with horrid editing choices and incoherent motivations in the later half of the story. In the end, it’s hard to buy a number of the decisions various characters made.


    Aeon Flux screen capture


    However, the narrative problems in Aeon Flux may be due more to ridiculous studio meddling than with the actual script – apparently the editing was one casualty of studio meddling. Phil Hay has indicated that he will write an essay on how the Director’s Cut would have been different. He is hoping that DVD sales will be high enough that the studio will agree to release the Director’s Cut, which he claims is a very different movie. Still, Charlize Theron’s excellent acrobatics makes for good eye candy, and turns in a credible performance as a humanized version of Aeon (the Trevor portrayal is completely uncrecognizable from the cartoon though). The visuals are terrific, and the technology is pretty interesting. Similar to other 6 star movies that are high on visuals but have problematic stories (Ultraviolet, T3, Appleseed), you may still be interested in giving this a watch.


    ~See movies similar to this one~


    May 7, 2006

    spikethebloody said:

    I trust you most always but I’d give it a 4 for chicks in tight clothing fighting and call it a day.

    May 8, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi Spike, Aeon Flux definitely deserves more than 4 stars - the visuals alone make it worth more than that. I would probably give it a 6.5 star rating if I had half stars. In fact, I don’t think the reviews would have been nearly as bad as they were had the studio not held it back from prescreenings. Clearly, this isn’t a masterpiece, but there are far far worse movies than this.

    In both Aeon Flux’s case and Ultraviolet, I cannot imagine that holding these back stopped negative publicity for the opening weekend. In fact, the negative buzz reached heights that would not have been achieved had just the reviewers trashed it. Case in point - Van Helsing was clearly a problematic flick, but be pre-screening it as advertised, many fans probably felt the critics were going to trash this kind of movie anyways. The thing cleared 100 million even though its Rottentomatoes rating was 22%. Aeon Flux has an 11% RT rating, but again, the withholding of it from prescreenings easily knocked off 10-20% - worse, it let the public know that the studio didn’t support it.

    amberlita said:

    you didn’t even comment on Charlie Theron’s eyebrows. boooooo.

    SFAM said:

    Her eyebrows?

    May 12, 2006

    amberlita said:

    Yeah. Just how insanely plucked they are. It’s inhuman.

    I was just messin. I haven’t even seen this film. Not sure if I ever will.

    May 31, 2006

    Neuromancer said:

    Just saw this movie and i think it was great fun.
    Not great or even good but surely fun to watch.
    This could be because i never saw the cartoon version of it.
    It seems like a case of the book being better than the movie. Or in this case the cartoon being better than the movie.
    Here’s another one by myself: don’t read books, it makes the movies based on them better.

    SFAM said:

    Hmmm, I think in some cases, reading the books definitely help the movie - Lord of the Rings certainly comes to mind for this, as does Narnia.

    Spider said:

    I thought it was kinda cool that Aeon was a clone, it sort of explained how she was able to die and come back so many times in the cartoon.
    But personally I think the reason this movie wasn’t as good as the cartoon is….a PG13 rating! I mean, come on, this movie should have been borderline NC17 with all kinds of sex, violence and language that could make even Madonna blush. Then it would have done the cartoon justice!

    SFAM said:

    June 1, 2006

    Spider said:

    Perhaps I should watch the DVD before I make anymore comments on the cartoon. :)
    I too am a commentary listener, but I have yet to receive the Aeon Flux: The Complete Animated Collection (3-Disc Series) from Netflix.

    Like Ultraviolet, Aeon Flux suffered from the PG13 movie craze that is sweeping the nation. I know why Hollywood does it, but I still hate that so many movies that should have kicked ass with a R rating suffer content wise, which makes the stories suck because they have to appeal to a larger (younger) audience. Why can’t they take a hint from The Matrix Trilogy which seemed to do OK with a R rating?

    June 2, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi Spider, I definitely agree that the PG-13 thing makes movie watching far less fun. But it’s not only that, it’s also the crazed “must have action NOW!!!!” thing that has taken over movies. God forbid if the director tries to develop the characters and plot for the first 20 minutes. A movie like that will NOT survive the studio editors.

    And the Aeon Flux Animated Series DVD set is absolutely awesome - one of the best out. It’s definitely worth owning.

    December 14, 2006

    Sophia said:

    I finally got around to see Aeon Flux and I completely agree with your review. I’ve been trying to find out what those little metal balls are- the ones Aeon calls with a whistle. They explode a prison wall so she can escape. Is it something they explain in the MTV series? It totally baffled me- I even went back twice in the movie to see if I had missed something– “did she spit them out?? How did she *do* that?” but it simply isn’t explained. Maybe you know the answer? Thanks!

    January 16, 2007

    SFAM said:

    Hi Sophia, I don’t remember the balls being in the MTV series (which is LOTS better than the movie), but if they were, they weren’t explained. We do know that they were heavily involved in nanotech, so the balls were probably programmable.

    May 20, 2007

    Andrew Bator said:

    Has there been any news on release of the Director’s Cut? By the sound of your and many other people’s reviews the only thing that this movie sounds like its missing is an extra half hour to flush things out :)

    What kind of corporate moron makes decisions of ‘well they don’t like it, but if enough people buy this we will press and ship the good version that actually want to see.’ I mean come on- give me a break. I’m not interested in seeing it UNTIL that version comes out. How many people do they think are out there that can piss away money on multiple versions of a movie?

    I stopped seeing these watered down versions of movies after Fellowship of the Ring. The extended cut is infinatly better but its taken years to get past my noticing the added bits, the differences from the version released in theaters. I waited until the extended versions of TT and RotK came out before i even saw them. I was dying to see it on the big screen. LotR has been my favorite story since i first read it 20 years ago.

    I know they shorten it to fit more playing times in, but can’t they at least get the Director’s version of a film out sooner?

    If they didn’t pay actors such insane salaries maybe they wouldn’t need to rape viewers everyway to Tuesday to recoup the money. I just read Brad Pit got 17 million to be in Fight Club. Now i love that movie.. its one of my all time favs. but louis Norton didnt even get 3… and hes the lead character! I guess it will take the industry imploding for them to get their head out of their asses.
    Ya uh.. so nothing but a rant. Your reviews and site are great. Keep up the great work.

    Andrew Bator said:

    err oups i mean ed norton not louis :)

    June 2, 2007

    randomrob said:

    having been a fan of the original series, which was surreal, non-linear nonsense, I was pleased that much of the graphic ‘feel’ of the cartoon made it into the movie, I thought, respectfully. Not bad, in a rather good way.

    June 7, 2007

    Anonymous said:

    I actually thought this was pretty good, if only from a purely aesthetic perspective. Knowing that Aeon Flux got pretty bad press, I went in with low expectations and was surprised that it didn’t seem as bad as critics said it was. The costumes and set design alone are enough to redeem it, even though I’ll grant you it did have some story problems.

    I’ve only seen a couple episodes of the original cartoon which is probably why I don’t feel as *VIOLATED* by this Hollywood slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am version as the hardcore fans, but if judged on its own merits, Aeon Flux isn’t that bad at all.

    June 14, 2007

    Anonymous said:

    I found the action a bit bland. I think paul verhoven, the wakowskis, or luc besson would be ideal as directors/producers. Ideal choices for actresses would be Uma Thurman, Nat Portman, even Milla Jovovich.

    randomrob said:

    Try watching the cartoon- it was never about action. It’s about paranoia and surreal sexual entendre… if it was really about anything….

    March 2, 2008

    Mr. No 1 said:

    Terrible film. I’ve seen worse, yeah, and the FX’s are pretty good, but jaysus… Had the feeling that it was made for teenagers.

    May 4, 2008

    Stanley L. Walker said:

    I absolutely adore this film. It is the best adaptation ever. It includes almost every concept from the toons and does a step further–it unites all of the disjointed ideas and randomness into something coherent and evolves Aeon’s character.

    They ported so much of the show into the movie–including the bizarre, bored way that Aeon and Trevor talked. Note how it doesn’t change in the film until the middle when she starts to gain her humanity. Personally, I think they should have skipped the monotone dialogue altogether. There is so much other stuff from the show that you wouldn’t have missed the style of talking.

    If you have the boxed set, watch the shorts and all the hour long eps and then revisit the film. There are characters from those stories, clothes from those stories, buildings from those stories, weapons (everywhere were the weapons–including the cool throwing spikes from the shorts where the painter dies a warriors), and even FOOD!!!! (The stuff Una is cutting is directly from the toon).

    But most of all, many of the gorgeous shots in the film (such as when Aeon sits in the circular window and awaits Sithandra’s arrival) are lifted directly (we’re talking 1:1) from the show!!! If you are a turbo fan (as I admittedly am) there is a ton of goodies in the movie for you. Everytime you watch it something new pops out from the shows!

    May 14, 2008

    Z99R307 said:

    it was crap compared to the cartoon

    November 23, 2008

    Dave said:

    I remember I saw this film on TV, at the begining, it was very interesting….. because of it’s visuals (it has the best art I have ever seen!)….. and Katherine, that hot emo girl!!!

    But the ending was terrible!!!!

    August 24, 2009

    Val said:

    Pure garbage.

    Hide your heads in shame. If you paste together 200 Loreal commercials, you will get the same visual stimuli and “satisfaction” of this homeless, heartless, box office poisoned juggernaut.

    I laugh when people say “but (hot actress) looked hot in this movie, so it wasn’t so bad” is inexcusably pathetic. What are you…12?

    March 16, 2010

    Cyberpunk Review » The Gene Generation said (pingback):

    […] better late than never I suppose), The Gene Generation follows the path taken by Ultraviolet and the live-action Aeon Flux with a gun-totting, leather clad femme fatale working for the government or some group-entity to […]

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