a critiQal film review The Fifth Element (1997)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: New York cab driver Korben Dallas (Willis) didn't mean to be a hero, but he just picked up the kind of fare (Jovovich) that only comes along every five thousand years: a perfect beauty, a perfect being, a perfect weapon. Now, together, they must save the world.

Reviewed
783 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 54s)

While we’ve been enjoying our NetFlix® instant queue lately, I’ve started noticing films in our collection that we haven’t reviewed yet. So, I’m starting to process through some of those as well. First up: The Fifth Element.

So let’s travel back in time to 1997, shall we? Back then, Milla Jovovich was known mostly for her modeling, although quick parts in Kuffs (1992) and Dazed and Confused (1993) were garnering her some attention. Her future status as action hero, thanks to her role in Resident Evil (2002) and it’s sequels was still 5 years in her future. Bruce Willis had just garnered attention for both his newly shaved head and his recent role in 12 Monkeys (1995). Gary Oldman was about to star in Air Force One (1997) the same summer, and his roles as both Jim Gordon (Batman Begins (2005)) and Sirius Black (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)) were still 7 years + in his future. And Chris Tucker hadn’t yet met Jackie Chan.

So, while we know these stars today, would they have been able to come together to create something worth checking out even more than a decade later? Or would director Luc Besson (who had already scored with both La Femme Nikita (1991) and The Professional (1994)) completely drop the ball and leave the viewer dissatisfied with the results? While we had seen the film years ago, we felt the question was worth asking again in 2010.

Bruce Willis brings his usual action hero persona to The Fifth Element and mixes in enough dry comic wit to make the viewer connect with this new character. Milla Jovovich also turns in a decent performance as Leeloo, and manages to bring both charm and a vulnerability to her role. Surprising, since she’s supposed to be the ultimate weapon. Her fresh-faced innocence is quite a surprise, especially after seeing her kick butt 7 ways to Sunday in Resident Evil (2002) and it’s ever-continuing sequels.

Gary Oldman takes a step out of the ordinary to bring a villain that is quite comical-looking in appearance, but still has a mean streak Gary’s so good at displaying. While it may not be up to the caliber of his performance in The Professional (1994), it isn’t meant to be. It’s supposed to be a bit fun, a bit campy – and it works completely.

Chris Tucker shows why he was later title “The Mouth” as he runs his yap constantly as oddly flamboyant radio host Ruby Rhod, While his dress may make him a bit too feminine, he manages to elicit laughs from the viewer time and time again with his rantings. Sure, his voice is kind of irritating, but that seems to be a part of the point in The Fifth Element.

The secondary characters vary wildly in the same amusement category, with Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister trying to keep a straight face while playing President of the Galaxy and Tricky playing a character called “Right Arm”, while Luke Perry pops up briefly during the introduction for a face-to-face with some rather rotund aliens.

The plot itself is both silly and completely inventive. Creating a search subject (the 4 stones) as well as a mystery (how exactly does the mysterious fifth element fit in?) keeps the viewers intrigued. Meanwhile, the crazy sequences the characters have to go through to achieve their final objectives range from the odd (Leeloo plummets through the roof of Korben’s cab without anything more than a scratch) to the wild (the crazy flying taxi chase sequence) to the mundane (Leeloo spends her free time perusing an online encyclopedia). But they all come together to make the movie work as a whole.

The special effects, huge for the time, are still impressive today, especially the sequences of a flying car-filled 100-story Central Park. Despite their age, the massive visual effects hold up quite well, and never interfere with the viewer’s enjoyment of the film. In fact, without those sequences, the film wouldn’t get the adrenaline pumping quite so much, so the film is much better off that the effects still remain impressive today.

The Fifth Element takes a basic action sci-fi plot, adds in some dry wit, tosses in some fun, slightly campy, performances by it’s actors, and wraps the bundle up with impressive special effects sequences that haven’t lost a beat even more than a decade after the film’s release.

Sure, you may laugh a bit more than the filmmakers may have originally intended, but the laughter doesn’t detract from the overall experience. In fact, that little bit of absurdity goes a long way in helping to keep this film from falling into the plethora of typical sci-fi action flicks. So, go ahead, sit down and re-watch The Fifth Element – and discover for yourself how much fun it still is to this day.

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