Movie Review: The Fifth Element (2016)
“It Mu5t Be Found.”
The Fifth Element (1997)
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman
Synopsis: In 2263, the future of the world rests on the shoulders of a New York cab driver and a young woman cloned from the fifth of the five elements which, together, can defeat the Great Evil.
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Despite trading in his white tee shirt for an orange one and dying his thinning brown hair blonde, Bruce Willis (Precious Cargo, Marauders) struggles to be noticed amongst the eye-popping visual effects in Luc Besson’s SF extravaganza, The Fifth Element. He’s supposed to be the hero of the piece, but finds himself trapped within the plot of a Flash Gordon serial with no real idea of what’s going on for much of the time, and motivated only by his desire to peel apart the modest wrapping in which the girl who almost literally falls into his lap is clad.
The Fifth Element is set in a dystopian future in which the skies above New York are crowded with flying cars, and people live in windowless pods the size of a small storage container. It begins, though, in Egypt, on the eve of WWI. The impending conflict means that Earth is no longer a safe refuge for the five stones which represent the elements that provide the only effective defence against the Great Evil, the interstellar neighbour from hell which seeks to destroy our universe every 300 years or so. The guardians of the five elements – a benevolent race of aliens called the Mondoshawan, who look a little like mechanical Clangers – have returned to reclaim the stone, and entrust a priest with a key and instructions to pass on his knowledge to his predecessors.
Fast-forward 300 years, and the portal between our universe and that of the Great Evil is open once more, allowing entry for the Mangalores – another alien race, who look not unlike giant bipedal fish in space suits – to prevent the metal Clangers from returning one of the elements to Earth, thus leaving the planet, and, indeed, the entire universe, vulnerable to complete annihilation. Fortunately, scientists are able to clone a fragment of this fifth element, which somehow reconstitutes itself in the rangy, and not unpleasant, form of gibberish-speaking Leeloo (Milla Jovovich – Cymbeline, Zoolander 2). Confused and afraid, Leeloo immediately escapes from the lab in which she was created and goes on the run with the help of former government agent turned flying cab driver, Korben Dallas (Willis), into whose cab she falls after throwing herself from the building in which the lab is situated.
Luc Besson was a hot property following the international success of Leon: The Professional, his 1994 arthouse crime thriller, and was therefore finally given the opportunity to make a film which he had been devising in his mind since he was a kid. This perhaps explains why the plot of The Fifth Element feels a little simplistic and half-baked at times, and remains stubbornly at odds with the film’s visual flair: kids picture the big details and sketch in the rest with broad strokes, which is exactly what happens with The Fifth Element. The motive of its chief villain, Zorg (Gary Oldman – Child 44, Criminal), a Ming-like despot with a deep Southern accent, makes little sense – after all, what does he hope to gain by destroying the universe in which he resides? – and the plot is laced with weak camp humour which blends uneasily with the action scenes.
Praised for its visual inventiveness upon its release in 1997, the effects look just a tad clunky today, and almost cartoonish at times. It’s to be expected to a degree – blazing a trail is the same as building a prototype: it’s there for others to improve upon – but The Fifth Element is in danger of being remembered not so much for its creative endeavours as some blatant product placement – McDonalds must have paid a fortune for its 20 seconds centre-stage, and even the waitress serving the Big Crap and Fries looks good enough to sink your teeth into. With Oldman and Willis largely going through the motions, it’s only the flame-haired Jovovich that comes away with much credit, and she’s good enough to leave us wishing that more of the story had been shown from her perspective.. The Fifth Element is an interesting misfire, which every now and then shows us frustratingly tantalising glimpses of how good it might have been had it not been built upon the imagination of a schoolboy.
(Reviewed 26th August 2016)
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