During the late 80’s and 90’s Luc Besson was one of the hottest commodities in the film industry with movies such as Big Blue, Leon and Nikita highlighting his unique style, weird humor and off beat characters. The pinnacle of his creative and commercial ascent is the 1997 film The Fifth Element which was a financial success, even though it was at the time the most expensive movie produced outside of Hollywood, and a movie which is still dear in many hearts today, but how well does it hold up today, almost 25 years after it was released
The story is extremely silly and very creative at the same time. In the 23rd century Earth is threatened by a sinister huge ball looking entity known only as “Evil”. Humanity only hope is the so-called Fifth element, a mythical being which comes to earth every five thousand years to protect humans. After it almost gets destroyed by an evil alien race in cahoots with “Evil” scientist using its remaining DNA succeed in creating the perfect being- Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). Quickly she escapes the lab and falls into the hands of ex-military turned grumpy taxi driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). Unwillingly at first he eventually agrees to help here and together they try to find minister Cornelius (Ian Holms) and save the world all while “Evils” henchmen on Earth Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) tries to stop them. It’s a wacky story with a lot of standard sf tropes but thanks to the creativity, eccentricity and obvious passion it stands out in front of many other similar movies in the genre.
World building at its best
The key word here is world building and Besson does a masterful job at it. With very keen attention to details and thanks to creative design the world in which the story is set feels alive and realistic despite all of the goofiness and weirdness surrounded by it. Out of loneliness Besson created this world in high school and started writing the script when he was sixteen years old and it shows in every scene that he had “lived” in this world a very long time. The special effects also hold up to this day very well not giving away the fact that the movie is almost three decades old at all.
Terrific ensemble cast
The cast is absolutely tremendous. Bruce Willis plays his classic witty, smartass, grumpy, unwilling hero to perfection and shares great chemistry with Milla Jovovich who has never been better as the exotic, gentle and pure Leello. Gary Oldman as the human villain is obviously having a blast playing over the top villain Zorg and even if the character is very campy Oldman somehow makes it work with the scene where he is talking to Evil on the phone and starts bleeding from his head stand out as a highlight
The humor could be somewhat off putting at times and feels quite unnecessary. That is especially true for one of the worst comic relief characters in blockbuster history, the obnoxious Ruby Rhode played completely over the top by Chris Tucker who is as every bit irritating as people remember him from back in the day.
Watching it now from a distance some flaws are much more visible now then they were when the movie was a box office sensation. It is quite uneven with the first part being much more entertaining then the second part, basically from the moment everyone boards the ship the movie drags on a little bit too much with is mostly due to the fact that there are simply to many characters in the movie. There are also some scenes which are tucked in just for the entertainment value with no big impact on the overall story with the scene where Zorg is chocking on a cherry being a prime example.
Despite some of its shortcomings The Fifth Element is still pure entertainment at its finest. Especially nowadays with so many bland and generic SF movies who due to their big budget play it safe The Fifth Element stands out now more than ever with its unapologetic vision. It is always a true testament to the movies timelessness when you see that it is playing on tv and for some reason you always stop and watch it because it never gets old and for a few movies you can say this is more true then for The Fifth Element.