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Movie Review

Aeon Flux was born in 1991. Her father was Peter Chung. Her mother was MTV's Liquid Television. At first she existed only as a 2- to 3-minute animated short. Then she entered into puberty four years later when the not-really-music-anymore network aired 10 half-hour (still-animated) episodes. Now she's come of age on the big screen, fully realized in a live-action sci-fi thriller.

Not that Aeon herself knows who she is or where she came from. (You already know more than she seems to.) And she's relatively unconcerned about what's going to happen to her next. So the exact reason why she's part of an anti-government freedom-fighting militia 400 years in the future isn't clear. What is apparent is that she's been dying to kick a few head honchos off their perches of power for longer than she can remember.

Then her sister gets killed during a "government action," and her drive for revenge makes her feel like a purebred Kentucky racehorse leaning hard on the starting gate. When the gate is finally opened by her opposition-force Handler, she bolts headlong for the finish line—the assassination of Chairman Trevor Goodchild. But she quickly learns, as we do, that "nothing is quite as it appears to be."

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Positive Elements

Aeon loves her sister. And her motivations for fighting—the few that we see—seem rooted in caring for the needs of others, not her own. As the playing field suddenly shifts and she gains new information about who her enemy is, she struggles to factor it into her decisions. When she learns that innocent people are being killed for the express purpose of protecting the status quo, she shows a willingness to end her own life to keep that from continuing. She maintains that one life well lived is better than many lives with a false sense of immortality. "We're meant to die," Aeon says. "It's the only thing that makes things matter. ... To live once for real, and then give way to people who might do better. To live only once, but with hope." (Hope of what—or in what—is never defined, though.)

Spiritual Content

Such musings hint at deep spiritual thoughts, but the movie never goes much beyond those bits of speechifying. Take this for what it's worth, the filmmakers seem to be saying. We hope this sounds good and it makes you feel good. Do with it whatever you want. We'll try to not be too specific about the implications. It is intimated that some part (or all) of one's soul and personality is transferred to a new body when DNA is used for cloning.

Sexual Content

"The animated Aeon Flux is a provocative, sexy and acrobatic character—and she isn't bound by the laws of man or nature," asserts producer Gayle Anne Hurd. So is her live-action version. Director Karyn Kusama calls her sexuality "very powerful and ultimately unapologetic. "In most scenes Aeon wears a form-fitting, low-cut spandex unitard. And as the film opens, she's seen waking up in panties and an extraordinarily revealing top—if you can even call it a top; you certainly can't call it a blouse or a shirt. ("I think that might be the sexiest costume ever," says Hurd.)

Aeon and Trevor fall into bed together, and the next morning, in what is easily the film's most disturbing image, a naked Aeon attempts to strangle Trevor to death. (We see her bare back several times during this sequence.) Later, a video image of sorts shows them having sex, but it's very short and indistinct.

Violent Content

Strangling is far from Aeon's only method of inducing death. She's a veritable cyclone of destruction, and pretty much anybody who crosses her path either immediately meets his maker or, at the very least, ends up on the receiving end of a wicked haymaker. She seems to enjoy blowing stuff up (from walls to a large aircraft) with timed explosive devices and "little steel balls" that roll toward her when she whistles for them.

The body count ratchets up as the film's minutes wind down. Machine-gun fire leaves scores of bodies strewn around a courtyard. One of Aeon's comrades falls off a tall tower. (We hear her body hit the ground, but don't see it.) A lethal obstacle course surrounds the government "citadel." It contains millions of knife blades sticking up through the grass, and darts automatically fire from pods hanging in the trees.

Most of the conflict consists of choreographed lunging, hitting and falling, seen in a quick-cut style that prevents you from dwelling on any one detail too long. But a couple of scenes slow down and/or load up on blood. To take out two Stormtrooper-type guards, Aeon grabs a jagged piece of shrapnel, slashing at them and then stabbing them. In the process, her hand gets ripped to shreds. Shortly thereafter, she uses her fingers to locate and then remove bullets from Trevor's shoulder and back. She also breaks the skin on her own back to expose an imbedded object.

When Aeon grapples with Trevor's bodyguard, she bites the woman's earring, ripping it from her ear. Blood stains the walls of a subway car after it gets strafed with bullets. A man—whose head is bloodied from being beaten—is gunned down in cold blood (offscreen).

Crude or Profane Language

While combat and crudity usually go together like hand in glove at the movies, Aeon, to her credit, chooses only one: combat.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Aeon drinks a vial of liquid to receive a message from Trevor. (It puts her into some kind of trance and she sees a vision of him talking.) Pills are ingested and used by militia members to communicate with each other. These drugs, also, seem to take over people's conscious beings and usher them into an alternate reality.

Other Negative Elements

A conversation with her sister gives us the impression that Aeon believes only physical violence and active, armed resistance can better one's world in an "oppressive" civilization.

Conclusion

Is there some kind of female Oscar conspiracy going on? Halle Berry won an Academy Award for her role in Monster's Ball and promptly showed up in theaters moving like a cat and wearing a black mask in Catwoman. Charlize Theron won an Oscar for Monster and promptly showed up in theaters moving like a cat and wearing a black mask in Aeon Flux. Speaking of Catwoman, Aeon Flux does feel a bit like that movie, but it also feels like Lara Croft, The Matrix, Minority Report and Gattaca. So it'll be fodder for the Sci Fi Channel quicker that you can recite the historical highlights of the next 400 years.

That's not to say it's a terrible movie. It's just so normal by today's sci-fi standards that it doesn't stand out with its visuals or its message. It briefly highlights the reality that as long as humans are involved, utopia can't exist. It celebrates free will, and it spends a few minutes showing us the way that free will can turn into run-amok rivalry. It hastily points out that a government without accountability will inevitably fall victim to corruption. It even snuggles up to the hot-button issue of human cloning for a bit. But by barely scratching the surface of any of these potentially weighty subjects, it left me asking to what end? Generic proclamations such as Aeon's, "I had a family once. I had a life. Now all I have is a mission" don't help much with the answer.

"I think what really distinguishes Aeon from a lot of other women in the genre is that she has so much free will; she's so self-determining," says Kusama. "The story of Aeon Flux grapples with some of the provocative themes that often inhabit science fiction, and it was important that she read as a complex and morally ambiguous character." Chung adds, "Aeon isn't a crime fighter; she isn't a government agent. She's not a hero in the classical sense. Instead, she's a force for personal freedom."

Yes. Aeon is morally ambiguous. And no, she isn't a hero in the classical sense. But my feeling is that both Kusama and Chung are overindulging their creation. Aeon mostly exists for one reason: to fight, and to look really, really cool doing it.

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