Film * Karyn Kusmama * Post-Plague Dystopia * 2005
Well, it had to happen eventually. As it happens, when your goal is to create a catalogue of thoughts and impressions about an admittedly vast and rather open-ended topic like the one I’ve chosen, not everything I read, watch, or play is going to be, ah, good. Obviously, I feel it is more helpful and interesting to focus on quality – or at the very least entertaining – cultural works. However, in addition to pop-culture classics and straight-up canonical literature (oh, we’re getting to it, just you wait) there are plenty of average-to-bad attempts made in the genre. My challenge is to find something useful to say about them. I’m not here to write reviews and assign scores (seven thumbs up!), I’m attempting to compile an opinionated encyclopedia. If you’ve read any of these articles it’s clear that I don’t make my feelings about the subject matter a secret; this isn’t a wiki. Yet I’m not particularly interested in dumping on easy targets. For a film such as this, an easy target if ever there was one, I think it’s more useful to focus on what it was trying to accomplish and understand why it may have failed.
The setup for this movie, one of the things that is actually kind of cool, is that 99.9% of the human population was decimated in a plague 400 years ago. What was left of humanity gathered under the protective wing of a scientist named Trevor Goodchild who saved the day with a cure before humans went extinct. In order to protect the remnants of the species he also created a police state to keep everyone safe. Cut to 400 years later and humanity hasn’t expanded at all. They still live huddled behind their walls amidst the planet-wide wilderness that has reclaimed civilization. There is still a repressive police state. However, there is also a resistance. And that’s when we meet Æon Flux, who is an agent of the Monicans, who want to overthrow the Goodchild dynasty and be free and junk.
What all this has to do with the original Liquid Television animated shorts, I have no idea. Part of this, if I’m honest, is that I have no idea what that original series was even about. That show was a long time ago, and I haven’t seen it recently enough to make any comparisons. What I do recall was that it was very stylish, kinda gross, and that I was confused most of the time. The film is different from these recollections. It’s stylish, for sure. It’s not as gross, as it is rocking a PG-13 rating. It’s not even that confusing. There are clearly defined characters and the events that occur make sense. I mean Æon doesn’t even die repeatedly for no reason. But boy oh boy is this thing boring. There is no life to it, at all. Things happen to people and it’s like, whatever. As I mentioned, the setup is interesting. But the follow through is just flat. Which is a bummer.
So, the premise is intriguing and the movie looks cool. Yet the movie is still bad. And not even fun-bad, but boring-bad. So what happened? I think the main problem lies with trying to hew too close to the source material. I’m not talking about story here, like I said I’ve long forgotten what the original series was about. I’m thinking more about style and character. If I remember correctly, the original shorts were all about crazy, stylish sci-fi action which didn’t even feature dialogue at first. That’s cool for a six-minute short, but cannot possibly hope to fill out a 90 minute feature. Æon is an assassin who works for a resistance group, which in the face of an authoritative regime should be sympathetic. Yet they’re portrayed as being every bit as sterile and lifeless as the dystopia they’re fighting against. I suspect this was an aesthetic choice made to align the movie with the source material, but it has the effect of making the resistance, and by extension both the protagonist and the antagonist, less vital and interesting.
As it happens, the big crisis in the midst of this society is sterility. Turns out, Trevor Goodchild made a cure for the plague that wiped out humanity, but the side-effect was rendering the population unable to procreate. Now it’s 400 years later, and everyone is a clone. Okay. There is an obvious parallel between the sterility of the populace and the sterility of the dystopian state, which would totally work if the segment of the people fighting against said sterility weren’t lifeless automatons blithely fighting the power. Seriously, these guys have no sense of urgency. Even Miss Hands-For-Feet looks like she could give a fuck about the outcome of her life-or-death struggle against The Man. I will be clear in saying that I don’t think every portrayal of a Resistance need be gritty and underground and dark. That aesthetic doesn’t fly in the world of crisp, clean lines and weird bio-science that’s been created here. What is required, I think, is the sense that these people are fighting for something and to seem like they mean it. John Connor would be disgusted with these people.
The big action finale which caps the film doesn’t work at all, and that’s perhaps the most disappointing thing. I have no qualms about watching dumb action movies. That’s actually what I was hoping for when I dialed this up on Netflix late at night. However, by the time the movie gets around to re-creating a memorable scene from the original series (which involves Æon running around doing cool flips and shit while shooting scores of baddies who fall in giant piles of corpses on either side of said badass assassin), it is evident that there is no passion behind any of these actions. That’s a weird thing to say about a lady who spends the movie stealth-killing fools and getting it on with the enemy, but it’s the truth. Æon seems disinterested. Maybe it’s an attempt to make her an icy, deadly assassin, but then why is so much effort put into her backstory about her sister? I don’t know. What I do understand is that for a film about the tenacity of life to break through attempts to oppress it, Æon Flux is astoundingly lifeless.