A cartoon’s mythos gets lost in the flux
In 1991, the Korean-American animator Peter Chung gave birth to “Æon Flux,” a series of animated films of various lengths that ran on MTV. Æon was a deeply strange child ― colorful and kinetic, always violent, often funny, sometimes sexual or even fetishistic. Meant as a recasting of a Gnostic myth as a futuristic dystopia, this was truly twisted television ― and no one had ever seen anything like it.
Almost 15 years later, Paramount has tried to duplicate that original success in live-action, cinematic format. But someone at the Paramount lab reached for the wrong vial, instead grabbing out of deep freeze a formula that should’ve died a natural death long ago: the Silly Dystopian Cloning Movie.
The result is an in-bred cinematic bastard child ― fun to watch, but intellectually and creatively emaciated and feeble. Essentially, “Gattaca” with guns instead of angst. Peter Chung was reportedly bitterly disappointed in the film, and it’s hard to blame him.
The story, which bears almost zero resemblence to the original, puts the action in the last human city on Earth just over 400 years in the future. A virus has wiped out the human race, except for Bregna, a small enclave that got the cure in time. For centuries, the inventors of that cure, the Goodchild family, have ruled the city ― but suddely the government starts “disappearing” people, and a rebel movement springs up to fight them.
The title character (Charlize Theron) is their best assassin. Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), in the original a power-hungry tyrannical super-soldier, is here just a pouting scientist that Æon is assigned to terminate. Of course, things don’t go as planned, instead leading down the road of sentimentality and bad science.
There are a few nods to the cartoon: The film opens with the signature shot of Æon catching a fly in her eyelashes, and Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo) still has hands for feet. But these minor similarities aren’t going to convince slighted Chung fans.
There are undeniably cool elements in the film, overshadowed though they are by unfulfilled high expectations. The obstacles Æon and Sithandra have to overcome to enter the Goodchild compound are interesting, if subverted a bit too easily. And as with so many of these films, there’s a germ of an interesting bioethics debate ― but “Æon” contents itself with superficiality.
But not a single shot comes close to exuding the primal energy of the original, and next to Chung’s bizarre, fiercely original art, this Bregna looks downright generic ― the iPod design revolution has rubbed out the rough edges of the ’90s “Æon.” And Karyn Kusama’s by-the-book direction simply fails to convey as effectively as the original the claustrophobia of omniscient government surveillence.
“Æon Flux” could have been a decent new effort, but, like last year’s “The Island,” it doesn’t quite know what to do with the issues it confronts, falling back on melodrama to prop up its thin characters. So ends another attempt to concoct a film to satisfy the legacy of bold science fiction and the demands of the almighty box office at the same time.
Back to the lab, Hollywood.
by Ben Applegate