This movie was pretty much trashed by the US critics, and this film just goes to prove that sometimes they get it wrong, not totally, but wrong none the less. Aeon Flux is not such a bad movie as they make out, in fact there's some clever aspects to it and a not bad British cast too. So don't listen too much to the US press about this movie and go make up your own mind about it, after reading this review of course!
Strangely the press screening I attended at the Edinburgh Omni Vue was busier than that of Walk the Line, perhaps because all the real press had already seen that film, however there was still the usual ten minute late attendee! I really don't know how they do it.
However, let's get back to the film. I've never seen the original cartoon on MTV, well I think I saw a few frames of one and turned off, I didn't really take to the drawing style, so I went to this film with a blank sheet.
It opens strong and quite boldly, producing a surprisingly good plot which seems to gain momentum as the film goes on. There is some confusion in the story early on, but that soon turns around as the story continues and the gaps are filled.
Part of the strength of this movie is around the unknowns and uncertainties in the plot and the characters. Not knowing everything about everything, even some of the main parts of the tale, it makes you feel uncertain and leaves room for twists and turns. Although the story explores these uncertainties and unknowns it shouldn't reveal all as this just has the effect of being spoon fed the story.
So here we come to one of the failings, the ending. To spend such effort (or perhaps lack of) on creating these uncertainties and unknowns only to come to the ending and through a number of contrived scenes, wrap everything up nicely and explain it all seems a bit of a contrast and indeed a Hollywood cop out. It's a shame because I really do think without this Hollywood factor this movie might have been given an extra boost. Perhaps it was test screened and altered?
While I'm on the ending there's another glaring issue with it, despite the showing of superb unstoppable strength throughout the film, both physically and mentally, Flux is all too easily curtailed just to allow the finalities of the plot to complete nicely. Then she spends some of the last moments of these scenes reverting to a trapped woman in a mans world, completely out of place in a film and character like this. It really does stand out as a mistake and against the characterisation.
There are a few twists and turns that the story takes on the way to the ending and a few of them work, and a few don't. Some are obvious because there's just nothing else in the way to make you think otherwise, but a couple of others are quite a good surprise. They don't have you gasping out loud in surprise, but you are facing slightly the wrong direction when they come, and they are genuinely good direction changes too.
Something that, I believe, made Aeon Flux the cartoon so good was the styling and the action elements (don't shoot me, I'm repeating what someone told me), and they seem to have captured this well in the film. The cinematography is good and made so much better by the addition of well blended special effects, simple and harsh set design and some superb costumes. Even the music has a slightly futuristic feel to it and sits nicely through the film without overpowering any of the scenes, something I would have expected in an MTV movie.
At the same time the huge science fiction element is portrayed very well. There's no stopping to offer lengthy and historical explanations of how something works, or how it has come about, instead you see it in action and then it's pretty obvious what it does. How it does it or why is often left unanswered, and this is a good thing. In the future things would work, not explain themselves every two minutes, and that's a facet of sci-fi that I tend to loathe.
Here's another part of sci-fi that I hate, why does every futuristic society consist of unemotional people with stilted voices and lacking any showable emotions? Throughout the film lines are delivered taught and often without range, emotion is checked through the speech and only really shown by the more evil and weaker characters. Why does that happen?
Anyway, that aside, combining all these elements create a strong and believable world around you. I didn't feel I was taken out of the movie at any point by the sci-fi element or by anything shown in the world, perhaps by acting, emotional blandness and the end sequences, but not by anything in the created world. That was one of the strongest features of the movie.
Charlize Theron is engaging and captivating on screen, the camera absolutely loves her and she's well filmed throughout, particularly in some of those amazing costumes. Her performance is fine, as you'd expect from such a great actress, when she gets the opportunity to show emotion it's unfettered and real, and did I say engaging and captivating already?
Marton Csokas also turns in a good performance and could be considered the Theron equivalent for those who prefer more rugged eye candy. He still provides the often stilted style throughout the film, but it does provide an element of knowing, or perhaps of being detached from everything that's around him. Maybe that is what this style is all about here, perhaps it's to produce the air that someone in his situation (without giving anything away) would have, perhaps like a member of the Royal family, or a greater species...I'm not sure now, maybe that was the effect they were after.
Another great thing is the strong British casting in the film. There's our long missed Jonny Lee Miller, the striking Sophie Okonedo who I just watched in Hotel Rwanda, the all too short onscreen time of Pete Postlethwaite, and two British TV staples Paterson Joseph and Caroline Chikezie who both do a good job.
Another issue with it, well I'm not getting obsessed by this, but the hand to hand fighting sequences. Who would have guessed that in this MTV movie they would have turned to the Hollywood style of fight scenes rather than the expected Eastern style of wire work and wider action shots?
You just can't tell what is happening during a fight sequence. If you watch it what you'll get are visual indicators that something is about to, or has just happened, you never actually see that part itself without an intense close up followed by two or three fast cuts to different angles of the same position. It's quite confusing, so what you end up with is are some images of hands, feet, thrown punches, a dive, a cartwheel, throw to the floor, leap in the air above, hands holding some wooden beams which you've seen before above the characters heads. That's the idea.
Again, like so many movies, I'd read about the work Theron had to do to train for this film. Where is it? There's lots of gymnastics, but the close cropped and fast editing of the action sequences cut out any understanding that she's doing anything other than laying up shots. I thoroughly hate this filming style of action, the visually suggested fight rather than the visually shown fight. I really think that more wire work would have suited this film.
Regardless of the action issues, there are good and bad points to the movie. Plot is perhaps the strongest, with the whole world creation coming in just behind. Sure there are good actors in it but I felt they were almost too restrained, although not bad. The worst part of this movie has to be the final scenes, after such a good plot and some intriguing characters, to suddenly change the way they behave to allow a scene or two to play out with explanations and tie ups galore was just far too cheesy and Hollywood for me.