Aeon Flux

Year: 2006
Director: Karen Kusuma
Cast: Charlize Theron, Marton Csokas, Sophie Okenedo, Johnny Lee Miller, Pete Postlethwaite, Amelia Warner, Frances McDormand
You might have heard about the critical mauling Aeon Flux received in the US (when it was finally released; the studio were apparently so skittish about it they didn't hold any pre-release media screenings). The Australian distributor pushed it back almost a month, and a cynical moviegoer might guess it was because they were hoping to give all the negative hullabaloo time to die down.

It also didn't help that so many film journalists started talking about whether Charlize Theron would fall victim to the post Academy curse, where actresses do an Oscar-winning role and go straight to headlining a big action film that tanks so badly it becomes a blight on her career. The fallout from 2004's Catwoman was so bad leading lady Halle Berry had the good grace to actually show up at the Golden Raspberries to accept her Worst Actress award.

If you're the demographic that enjoyed Theron's last serious dramatic outings, North Country and Monster (which includes most film critics), you're probably not the audience Aeon Flux is going for, which probably explains a lot of the negative comment.

Even so, if you're in the right audience profile, keep in mind it's another in a long line of (apparently) bad movies based on comic book characters, video games, hit anime series and old TV shows. In fact, they've barely begun plundering the world of anime for ideas to repackage as asinine, PG-rated action films (start praying now). And with what must be the silliest tagline so far this year - The Future is Flux - things looked bad.

A lot of what you expect to be rubbish about Aeon Flux is. The storyline involves yet another society built upon the lies of its megalomaniacal creators, of which the hero is an unwitting part, sending her on a quest to overcome the shocking secret of her origins while saving the world. The dialogue is clunky and the acting will go unnoticed at next years Oscars.

The whole truth-about-the-world conspiracy is taken straight out of Despotic Governments and Their Secrets for Dummies, and the style is a rip off of every Matrix-inspired (and inspiring) anime and fan film.

But director Kusuma (Girlfight) really only had one job to do; create a live action version of the anime hit of the same name. In this, she's done the job perfectly. The whiplash choreography of the fight scenes and groovy gadgetry and weaponry of Theron's dominatrix-dressed heroine are straight out of anime.

The inventive fades and transitions between one scene and another invoke the dreamy, spiritual mood of the genre, such as when Aeon takes the magic pill which puts her in a trance and takes her to a netherworld where her handler assigns missions. Smart camerawork brings the movie as close to anime as any anime-inspired film has come, and fans of the genre will recognise their language.

And though it's hard to believe before you've seen it, Aeon Flux could actually win an Academy Award next year. The set design is phenomenal, and the cinematographer and production designer have come up with the most distinctive glimpse of the far future in ages. It's not all computers and white bio-suits, either, but a riot of outlandish colours and shapes halfway between Barbarella and Gattaca.

Aeon is an assassin for the Monicans, a rebel gang fighting the oppressive government (once again, straight out of everything from THX1138 to Logan's Run) who provide a pristine society from which people routinely 'disappear'.

Living in the last human city centuries in the future, Aeon is sent to exterminate its overlord (it can't be easy being an all-powerful dictator with a name like Trevor) when a fleeting memory freezes her finger on the trigger and uncovers a secret so shattering it will destroy everything she thought about herself and everything their society rests upon. They go on the lam together, followed by the police, her fellow rebels and the councillors engineering a coup to keep things as they are, the race is on to solve the mystery and stay alive.

It's not a rushed, hobbled together travesty, which is what most reviews will lead you to believe. It's actually the best movie it can be given the limits of the genre. It's certainly not as bad as you've heard, and creativity with the design and editing lift it above typical action/sci-fi fare.

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