For many female stars in Hollywood, an action franchise seems to perch at the top of their wish lists — but it’s a wish that audiences are unusually reluctant to grant. In the early years of this decade, it looked like the age of the female action hero might’ve finally commenced, with hit Charlie’s Angels and Tomb Raider movies, but it couldn’t last; sequels to both films underperformed, and comic-book spinoffs Catwoman and Elektra took Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner, respectively, down with them. Halle Berry won an Oscar, for Christ’s sake, and she still wanted to prove that she could kick some ass.
This season’s challenger: Charlize Theron, shooting and flipping her way through Aeon Flux, an adaptation of the inscrutable MTV cartoon about a freedom-fighting assassin. Apart from the fact that sci-fi/action pictures don’t typically attract much business over the holidays, Aeon Flux is probably the season’s best hope for a camp disaster. The footage in the trailer doesn’t particularly resemble the detailed, sometimes grotesque look of the cartoon, but creates its own brightly colored, vaguely chintzy-looking futuristic world.
But there’s one potential difference on display: beyond the mere presence of an ass-kicking chick, Flux looks like a surprisingly female-centric action-adventure. The Tomb Raider movies surrounded Angelina Jolie with a bunch of interchangeable British and Australian dudes — the nerdy sidekick, brooding love interest, and severe villain could have all been played by the same actor — as if to prove Lara Croft could hang with the boys (or at least the generic version of the boys). But Aeon Flux co-stars Sophie Okonedo, possibly the most severe-looking actresses on the planet (in Hotel Rwanda, even her smiles looked anguished), and Frances McDormand, one of the best actors working today, and one of the last you’d expect to board a $70 million sci-fi blast-em-up. The director is Karyn Kusama, who wrote and directed the indie Girlfight (2000), in which Michelle Rodriguez plays a female boxer. Take the (non) words Aeon and Flux out of this equation and you might expect an earnest social drama like Theron’s recent North Country. Charlie’s Angels flirted with girl power but spent just as much time making eyes at Maxim; have Theron, Kusama, and company actually produced a spectacular, action-packed, feminist extravaganza?
If so, they’ll have to overcome the aura of ridiculousness that surrounds that trailer, which has been playing since the summer. But with so many smart women on the set, maybe the filmmakers resisted the temptation to expend so much energy trying to please and/or impress the men in the audience (it can be done, and the smarter men will be pleased and/or impressed anyway, as in Kill Bill). At very least, the Aeon Flux trailer inspires a pleasant uncertainty: will it be action trash? A camp classic? (Sub-question: intentional or not?) A bold statement? Bold, campy action trash? The odds may not be with it, but at least we might not see everything before it even opens.