December 03, 2005

First the Flux, Then the Typhus

Oh No!
It’s Time for Yet Another Installment of …

Today’s Movie: "Aeon Flux"

WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE, “Aeon Flux” was one of several cool shows on television, a well-crafted and intelligent and clever escape for those interested in science-fiction. I daresay its ten half-hour episodes remain, a decade later, some of the best animated television of all time.

That’s what made “Aeon Flux,” the live-action movie of the same name, such a godrotting disappointment. I mean, come on. The filmmakers had an amazing reservoir of intellectual capital and story development, plus a pretty impressive cast to go along with it, and what do they produce? A stunted wreck of a film which not only can’t compare with its predecessor, but doesn’t even stand up on its own merits as a movie. Simply put, Aeon Flux, the film – and my own moviegoing experience – can be summed up in one word: ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Now, Aeon Flux wasn’t horribly bad like “Gigli.” Oh, no. It just wasn’t any good: the acting was wooden and the characters weren’t developed and the plot was thin and – oh, like I said, the whole experience was disappointing. That’s because it all could have been so much better – starting with the theatre.

In retrospect, it was probably a mistake for me to choose the giant multiplex out in the suburbs. The place was crowded with unruly children and teenagers whose long-suffering parents were nowhere to be seen. The adults who were present seemed divided into two camps: those thankful for a night away from their wretched offspring, and those observing the whole scene with quiet horror. Near the arcade, there was a group of Beavis and Butthead clones engaged in horseplay; in the center of the lobby, teenagers rushing about hither and thither. One foul high schooler rushed past me as I stood in the ticket line, and without so much as a by-your-leave, stabbed the heel of her shoe into the ingrown nail of my big toe. In short, the scene was a microcosm of what happens when parents fail.

Speaking of failure, general principle requires me to denounce the gastronomic monstrosity I witnessed at the theatre concessionary. I do not refer to the wretched chocolates and the hideous reheated pre-fried snacks and the flavored water, of which the last was on sale for, so help me God, $3 a bottle. Oh, no. One expects such things from the cash-strapped theatre operators. I was, though, horrified to realize just how they served up popcorn these days.

Now, everyone loves popcorn, particularly when it is cooked properly (that is, cooked using oil) and served hot, preferably with salt and a bit of butter to go with it. Yet while this theatre had an actual popper, from which came incredible quantities of hot and delicious popcorn, none of this popcorn was immediately served to the public. Oh, no. Instead, I watched as it was put into giant plastic bags. Then, in horror, I watched as the concessionary workers instead served up popcorn which had been warmed up in some sort of a reheating device. I mean, that’s just wrong, especially given that one could buy lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken for less.

But as for Aeon – oh boy. Spoilers follow, so if you’re still planning to see the movie, don’t read any further, because it will likely ruin your enjoyment of the film. That said, quite frankly, you might as well go ahead – the movie bites and it’s not like you’re not going to be able to figure things out anyway.

Here’s the plot: A few years from now, humanity gets hit with a plague that makes the Black Death look like a nasty summer cold. Fast forward to the 25th century, when the few remaining survivors live in a modern industrial city in which no one actually works and there’s no real entertainment available. It’s kind of like Pyongyang, except there’s plentiful electricity and food.

As it turns out, though, some citizens of the city are in revolt against their scientist overlords, and run around breaking things, overturning carefully-arranged plates of hors d’oeurves, and so on. Also, they’re trying to knock off Trevor Goodchild, the city of Bregna’s chairman and chief executive. Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) is the revolt’s best assassin, so they choose her to shoot Trevor – except she can’t, because she and Trev have issues. And besides, Trevor’s not such a bad guy after all, and –

Uh, wait a minute. Yes, he is, even if Aeon’s in love with him and he with her. That was part of the original dramatic tension. So could someone please explain to me why the movie’s Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) isn’t evil?

In the TV show, Trevor – who was a great character – was egomaniacal, vain, ruthless and cunning, and at the very least, partially evil. The movie’s Trevor Goodchild is an emotional, sensitive, mealymouthed sap who can’t take five steps without waxing lyrically about helping mankind. The man couldn’t manage a convenience store, much less establish himself as the future’s Kim Il Sung.

As if to recognize this flaw, the screenwriters threw in an evil Goodchild brother (Jonny Lee Miller) who wants to seize Bregna and rule it as his own private Idaho. This doesn’t really work, and it further mucks up a muddled and confused plot, as does the addition of:

* Frances McDormand, who plays “The Handler,” the rebellion’s leader. There are two things wrong with this: first, McDormand’s hair and costume would have led any competent secret police to detain her as a troublemaker; and second, it was Frances McDormand, and all I could think was, “Oh geez, Marge Gunderson’s leading the revolt!” I’m sorry. I know that’s bad of me. But it’s not my fault: if the script had been better, my mind wouldn’t have wandered.

* Pete Postlethwaite, who plays the “Keeper.” Now, I think Pete Postlethwaite is an amazing actor, and I thought for sure he’d get a kickass role. That’s one of the reasons I went to see “Aeon Flux.” How silly I was. He gets a minor role in which his talents are completely wasted, and it is so frustrating. I mean, my God – this is the man who played Kobayashi in “The Usual Suspects.” If there was anyone who would have played an evil brother well, or a loyal second-in-command well, Pete Postlethwaite was it. Instead … oh, I can’t go on, I’m still so annoyed.

* The extras playing the city’s citizens, who can’t even properly panic when hideous and awful things start happening as their dystopian society starts falling apart. There’s something to be said for running about and screaming.

Anyway, perhaps the most frustrating thing while watching “Aeon Flux” was knowing that it had the potential to be so much better. Sure, the imagery was beautiful and the colors were vibrant and the black hair really worked for Charlize Theron. But the plot was convoluted and the acting was generally grim and the directing flat-out bit and – ah, one could go on. Now that all is said and done, though, I think it’s worth noting that one can buy the animated Aeon Flux DVD box set for a mere $28. Given the prices of movie tickets and popcorn these days, that might prove a better investment.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at December 3, 2005 09:59 AM | TrackBack