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Aeon Flux is a cinematic gift

by Glen Baity

In a few weeks, I’ll be cobbling together my own version of that time-honored, self-indulgent film critics’ tradition: the year-end ‘Best Of’ list. While I look forward to holding forth on the overall worthiness of the year 2005 (the jury’s out until I see King Kong), I can’t resist the opportunity to offer a sneak preview of a late-coming award winner. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my pleasure to introduce the odds-on favorite for the 2005 ‘“Holy Crap, It’s Good!’” award:

Aeon Flux.

I’ll admit to having low expectations for this film due to a combination of factors: I was never really interested in the Aeon Flux portion of MTV’s ‘“Liquid Television,’” therefore I didn’t know what the story involved, leaving myself to gather an opinion from the preview (I know, dumb idea). Not until I was knee-deep in the film did I realize, once again, that its marketing set up a series of mostly false expectations, and I only bring this up because it’s the same method most people use to decide whether or not to see a film. If you think you’ve got Aeon Flux pinned, you may want to take a second look.

‘“I used to have a family,’” Aeon (Charlize Theron) says in the film’s trailer, ‘“now I just have a mission.’” Stated over a montage of exploding gadgets and kung-fu battles, it gives the impression that Aeon Flux is a simple revenge story. In truth, the film takes a number of strange twists that place it in a higher class. On one level, it’s still a strong action/sci-fi picture: the thrills start soon after the opening credits, and they don’t stop coming. But there’s a cool mystery that propels the film to greater heights, revealed through spare dialogue and generally good performances by its cast (uglied up or not, Theron is a fine actor).

Aeon Flux takes place in 2415, 400 years after a virus has wiped out 99 percent of the world’s population. Ancestors of the plague’s survivors live in Bregna, a walled city ruled with an iron fist by descendents of the doctor who discovered the cure. Aeon is an agent for the rebellion, tapped to infiltrate the administration stronghold and stage a bloody coup to displace those officials who punish dissent with brutal efficiency.

As fables about big government paranoia go, Aeon Flux blazes no new trails. The setup is straight out of 1984, and though the ceaseless propaganda ‘— War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, etc. ‘— are present only by implication, the looming portraits of Chairman Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) that adorn the city walls state in no uncertain terms that Big Brother is Watching You. The citizens’ sterile way of life would seem cliched if it weren’t so well rendered, and it does make sense when you think about it ‘— these are, after all, people whose history is written in the wake of catastrophic disease. The production design team does a great job fashioning a far-future world that looks at once fantastic, believable and inhabitable.

When Aeon begins to investigate the death of her sister (Amelia Warner), the story embarks on an interesting path. Double-crosses, past lives, and an assassin with four hands and no feet are all linchpins in a taut science fiction piece in the tradition of Philip K. Dick. Director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) trims whatever fat might have existed in the script, and the abbreviated length (right at 90 minutes) downplays the film’s few weaknesses: though it’s well-acted, it’s a scant 10 minutes shy of being oppressively dreary and humorless. There’s a fine line between stylized (The Matrix) and laughably self-important (The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions), and Kusama walks on the right side of it. It’s rare that you’ll hear me say this, but I’d even welcome a sequel.

The film is based on the MTV animated series of the same name, which still boasts a small, loyal cult following. I’m unable to critique the film from the perspective of a fan, but as someone who appreciates a smart, if not necessarily groundbreaking science fiction yarn (something along the lines of Gattaca, to name one example), my hat is off. An engaging plot and a satisfying ending make Aeon Flux a solid, tightly-wrapped package.

Glen Baity was tempted to pan this film just so he could make a lame-ass ‘Flux/Sucks’ pun, but he didn’t, and he thinks you should congratulate him for that when you send your comments to egothelivingplanet@excite.com.

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