Sometimes a movie goes downhill so subtly that it takes awhile for it to sink in that it's started to suck, and other times it goes downhill so suddenly that it's impossible not to notice. Aeon Flux is definitely the latter kind of movie. The first fifteen minutes weren't that promising - there's a lot of awkward exposition to explain the background of the dystopian future the movie is set in - but there was a scene in the first act that made it immediately clear that this movie was going to be writing checks it could not cash.
Let me set the stage: Aeon Flux, noted assassin, meets up with her friend Sithandra, who has hands where her feet should be. (Already this is iffy.) The two of them are going to attack evil dictator Trevor Goodchild, but first they have to cross... a lawn. Sithandra leaps onto the grass but it turns out the grass is not grass, it's little knives that have impaled her hand-feet. (Getting worse.) Aeon is mid-leap when she sees what has befallen her friend, so instead of landing on the tiny green blades she spirals in the air like an arrow, spinning herself an extra thirty yards past the stabby part of the lawn towards a lawn-y part of the lawn. I'm calling bullshit on that spin.
The reason why is simple: I see that sort of maneuver all the time in classic kung fu movies; it's a popular move in films that feature a lot of wire work. But those movies tend to do it stylishly: often they'll slow down the footage and for the most part their actors are wearing baggy clothes that flutter in the wind as they move. By emphasizing the move instead of cheating it they make it clear that the world they take place in isn't quite our world, but rather, a heightened reality that you have to buy into. In contrast, Aeon Flux wanted to dupe you by forcing the perspective so that the real distance she was supposed to be traveling was obscured, then they tried to hide how ridiculous she looked using motion blur and quick edits. Aeon Flux wants to take place in a world where people can move in impossible ways, but it doesn't quite want to own up to how impossible that is. As a result, it feels like it's cheating you.
Now, picking on that stunt (which only takes a few seconds) might sound like I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but it really is indicative of the movie overall. When Aeon is captured and put in jail the walls of her cell are a very light gray - not the bright white we associate with dystopian jails (which are trying so hard to look perfect that it's creepy) and not the dark gray we associate with modern jails (which are trying to be depressing.) The technology is also neither here nor there: the underground resistance has the ability to make explosive ball bearings that will stay in place until someone whistles for them to come closer, and yet for the most part people in the battle scenes are using fairly conventional guns. There's a woman with hands surgically attached below her ankles, but that seems to be the only visible body modifications in the movie. Aeon Flux can't make up it's mind about how futuristic it wants to be - it will make a decision but then it won't commit to it, and as a result, everything from the plot to the visual scheme ends up being a muddle.
It's a shame. I doubt anyone involved thought that they were producing Shakespeare, but I'm sure that they thought that could produce something on the level of Resident Evil. It would have been cool to have another female fronted sci-fi franchise, and Charlize Theron would have been great as it's anchor. But the film didn't even come close to the low bar that Resident Evil set, not even with Theron committing fully to the part, because most of the dramatic scenes are staged with all the competence of a high school theater production and most of the action scenes are papered with painfully bad CGI. But I will give it this: at least it didn't make you wait to figure out if it was going to suck.
Winner: The Cat