In 1991 MTV introduced a new adult-themed cartoon to its Liquid Television series, a dialogue-free short packed with stylishly frenetic action and centred around a girl in a leather bikini who got killed every episode on some kind of impossible mission. By 1995, this short cartoon had been expanded into a series of half-hour shows, now with dialogue and with the fetish gear-clad heroine actually managing to survive.
These longer shows also managed to flesh out her character – she was a spy/terrorist from an anarchist society, taking on the powers of the fascistic neighbouring police state. In other words, Aeon Flux started off as a not especially original idea – but at least it had a certain sense of style.
A decade on, however, and the concept of an anarchist terrorist/spy taking on a police state with a lot of stylish action and sexy outfits has become even almost painfully familiar thanks to the Matrix movies. Of course, The Matrix was in part inspired by Aeon Flux – notably the character of Trinity, in her shiny PVC catsuit and with her spectacular martial arts moves. But such is the way with these things – sometimes by the time a film based on the original comes out, a derivative has already been released. It happened with Judge Dredd, which had already been adapted for the screen under a different name and with a few alterations as Robocop; now Aeon Flux hits our screens a good few years after The Matrix has already covered all the same ground. Add to that the recent ‘attractive woman in sexy outfits does martial arts’ movies Electra and Underworld, and it’s hard to see what, if anything, Aeon Flux can offer that’s in any way new.
Added to the problem is a fairly pedestrian script packed with stereotypical characters who will all be entirely familiar to any fans of the genre, and a director with limited experience who seems not to have been too interested in trying to elicit particularly believable performances from any of her actors. This may be science fiction, but that does not excuse the decidedly cold and inexpressive way in which so many of the lines are delivered.
It’s not as if the cast are not capable of turning in better performances. From Oscar winner Charlize Theron in the lead to Johnny Lee Miller, Pete Postlethwaite, Sophie Okonedo and Francis McDormand in supporting roles, this is an experienced and accomplished cast, all of whom are capable of creating great characters with the right material. As it is, and as seems so common in science fiction films these days, once again the special effects and fancy costumes seem to have taken precedence over plot and characterisation as the titular character battles her way into the heart of the forces of oppression.
The fact that the two sequels to The Matrix entirely failed to live up to the original should have been a clue to the makers of Aeon Flux that there’s only so much you can do with a premise which is based largely on style over substance. The idea of anarchists fighting fascists doubtless still has appeal, but the surface has already been thoroughly scraped – it is time to delve deeper. Perhaps the comic book adaptation V for Vendetta, due out in a month, based on yet another similar premise, might finally deliver on the promise. Aeon Flux, sadly, does not.