Peter Chung's animated TV series becomes a stylish star vehicle for Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron, who provides most of the movie's thrills by strutting around with her statuesque figure sheathed in skintight body suits. Come to think of it, watching the movie with our eyes riveted to Theron may account for our inability to make sense of the plot. Best as we could determine, it has to do with the fact that, by the 25th century, humanity has been nearly eradicated by disease, with the surviving members of the species walled up in an impregnable city and ruled by a cadre of scientists headed by Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas). A band of rebels known as the Monicans devote themselves to overthrowing the dictatorial regime, and to this end skilled warrior Aeon Flux (Theron) is assigned to assassinate Goodchild -- a task she relishes, believing him responsible for the deaths of her parents. Director Karyn Kusama doesn't waste much energy making the narrative coherent, but she does manage to replicate the visual style of anime, those stylish Japanese cartoons that rely on a unique form of expressionism. This concentration on visuals produces some remarkable effects, although it results in the subjugation of a talented cast; which, in addition to Theron and Csokas, includes Frances McDormand, Pete Postlethwaite, and Sophie Okonedo -- all worthy of far more challenging material. Aeon Flux is basically intended for young male viewers, the demographic that most readily embraces anime, comic books, and video games, all of whose stylistic flourishes this movie incorporates.
MTV Films' first foray into big-budget sci-fi action was greeted with indifference bordering on hostility, as Aeon Flux failed to translate the expressionistic animation that made the original series a cult favorite, and reaped only 25 million dollars domestically. But this Charlize Theron vehicle actually does succeed in many of its design details. It's possible the tepid response was due to concept overload; on the heels of the Lara Croft movies, the Matrix movies, Catwoman, and Underworld, the "chicks who kick butt" genre was milked dry by late 2005. (Flux's director, Karyn Kusama, is even a veteran of one such film, albeit on a smaller scale -- the 2000 boxing drama Girlfight.) Theron makes a steely addition to the aforementioned list of fightin' females, though some critics found that the actress herself seemed emotionally disengaged, rather than just the character. Either way, she carries off the fight choreography with panache, and looks formidable in her skin-tight black outfit. The future can be hard for production designers to conjure in new ways, but Aeon Flux also deserves credit on that score, with such inventive gadgets as micro-controlled explosive rolling balls, pills that communicate messages when swallowed, and blades of grass that are literally blades. The "rebel force of assassins" plot is pretty played, but the story's cloning focus is timely and resonant. Individual triumphs aside, Aeon Flux seems like a film that never quite coalesced. The character arcs don't resolve in emotionally satisfying ways, and the film ends up feeling sort of underpopulated. More than anything, Aeon Flux again indicates the daunting task facing screenwriters who want to immerse their audience in fantasy worlds. Even if they fall just short of the mark, it can prompt critics to chastise the film as "Theron's Catwoman."
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