REVIEW: The Fifth Element

 Star Wars captured the imagination and thrust me into a fictional, worn-down world.  The majority of A New Hope was situated in environments that were far from lively.  From the sandy and barren planet of Tatooine to the utilitarian and bland nature of the Death Star, George Lucas was presenting us a space opera in which there was little hope.  The rebel ships looked as they were purchased second hand at a shady auction, and the iconic Millennium Falcon was introduced as a 'hunk of junk.'  Only Yavin 4 had signs of life, and we barely ever saw that.  This galaxy was harsh.

When Luc Besson released his own space opera, he went an entirely different direction.  The future that The Fifth Element was set in was colourful, dangerous, but still light hearted and humorous.  Hitting theatres in 1997, just two years before The Phantom Menace, I wasn't prepared to enjoy The Fifth Element.  Besson, according to me, had gotten the formula wrong.  The gold standard was Star Wars, and this was too far away from that.  Starship Troopers, which also came out in 1997, messed up and got it wrong as well.  How could either of these films be taken seriously?

I was young, and I was stupid.  When I saw those films, I came to the understanding that different could not just be good, but could be refreshing.  The Fifth Element is an absolutely insane film, a movie that has massive stakes as well as being partnered with an extremely playful tone. 

Bruce Willis is Korben Dallas, a former special operations soldier who is now a not very good cab driver.  His low key existence is thrown off when he comes across Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), who is the key to humanities survival against an extremely malevolent antagonist.  The adventure begins, and Korben must do everything he can to ensure the continuation of the human race.

The colours in the film are bright, and the characters are outlandish.  From Gary Oldman's portrayal as the evil Zorg to Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod, the people that fill this fictional future are unrestrained and downright crazy.  While this sort of thing wouldn't have worked at all if placed in the world of Star Wars, in what The Fifth Element has created they just add to the wonder and lack of sanity that ensconces this film.

The production design, hair, and wardrobe are all key in bringing all of this to life.  All elements are going all in on the creation of this environment, and the end result is a movie that is easy to accept as goofy, nuts, and far out.  Crazy doesn't always work, but when all aspects of a movie are unashamed of playing their part we as the viewer can be sucked in, which is what happens with The Fifth Element.

There are some flaws with this film, such as villains that may be a little too goofy, but even that just adds to the experience.  This movie is interested in being one thing, and that is to be fun.  Willis and Jovovich are great together, and their stories are easy to invest in.  The action is not ground breaking and game changing, but it worked in service of the fun.

Even though The Fifth Element came out twenty five years ago, it still feels fresh.  When movies try to be goofy, they can often fail.  I think that pulling off the sort of playfulness in The Fifth Element is insanely difficult, and Besson was able to make it work thanks to everyone involved going all in.  Crazy can be great, and provide those moments of needed distraction and escapism.  I'm not going to say that it is as insane and great as Face/Off (which also came out in 1997, making it a great year for the theatre of the absurd), but for me it is always worth it's runtime.  How could I ever say no to such fun?

Rating - 3 out of 4 stars