The Fifth Element

5thElement-PosterScience fiction is a genre that is known, especially nowadays, for presenting a “big idea” in the subtext that it’s trying to get across. Most of the critically acclaimed science fiction films, and most of the ones that are remembered for years past their release, have an element of this. But every so often it’s nice to be reminded that science fiction can just be fun as well, and The Fifth Element takes this approach while not completely ignoring the other.

Directed and written by Luc Besson, this film was reportedly his homage to the science fiction comic books he had grown up on. It doesn’t fall far from the source. The Fifth Element is fast-paced, colorful, and a lot of fun.

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Though maybe not so fun for the protagonists.

The Fifth Element stars Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas, retired major and current taxi driver. Set a few hundred years in the future, the film begins with the imminent arrival of an ancient threat to civilization. Every 5000 years a great evil comes to try and consume the Earth and spread death throughout the galaxy. The only thing which can stop it is a weapon long-hidden in the pyramids of Egypt, granted to mankind by benevolent aliens. The weapon harnesses the power of the four elements, centered around a fifth. Korben is brought into the mess when the fifth element in question, a genetically-engineered superhuman called Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) crashes through the roof his cab. Korben and Leeloo need to retrieve the four elemental keystones to save the world. Also present are a priest and his acolyte (Ian Holm and Charlie Creed-Miles), who were the benevolent aliens’ contacts on Earth; Gary Oldman as Zorg, a power-hungry businessman who wants to sell the stones for profit; and an alien race that wants the stones to sell to Zorg for advanced weaponry. All factions are in competition for the stones.

It’s a simple and straightforward plot that makes for a fun romp through a setting that, like Blade Runner, is a mixture of “colorful” and “gritty” — leaning more to the former in this case. The sci-fi comic book legacy is in full display with the designs of the cities, aliens, artifacts, and costumes. The Fifth Element is always a pleasure to look at.

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OK. Almost always.

The characters in the film are also a lot of fun. Korben Dallas is your typical Bruce Willis role; he’s a highly capable guy who nevertheless seems rather put-upon by his situation. There’s a strong resemblance to John McClane in his personality. Leeloo is both driven and very naive, having little direct life experience; she’s impressive in combat and amusingly charming outside of it. Gary Oldman’s character Zorg is creepy and weird in the right doses, while never seeming as though this is in any way a handicap to his character. Even Chris Tucker’s character, Ruby Rhod, is moderately amusing — though I did find him to be overused.

The story makes a few basic nods to the idea of science fiction being about high concepts, particularly near the end of the film, but mostly it’s just here to show the audience a good time. There are gunfights and fistfights and a lot of subversive humor throughout the film. The end result is a film that occupies that special intersection between an intelligent film and simple fun; how much thinking you want to do while watching the film is largely up to you, and there’s something to reward any level of brain activity. It leans a bit more on the side of simple fun — but since it is fun, it succeeds at that without falling into the trap of being stupid.

It’s a film that I can see myself going back to multiple times. While my initial impression is strong, I can picture it getting stronger with repeat viewings.

Rating: 4 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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27 Responses to The Fifth Element

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Yeah, this is a fun sci-fi flick.

  2. jeffro517 says:

    I remember seeing this when it was already out on DVD at a party. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was immediately in love with the ridiculous nature of it all. Great review!

  3. Nostra says:

    It has been way too long since I’ve watched this, really need to check this one out again.

  4. Jaina says:

    Right with you Morgan – The Fifth Element is a hugely enjoyable and FUN sci-fi film. And a good one at that. I love the sci-fi genre, but sometimes it can take itself too seriously and put people off. This film is not only a solid sci-fi film but it’s fun and so very pretty!

  5. Nice review.

    I always think “The Fifth Element” gets unfairly maligned–probably because of Chris Tucker.

  6. Scophi says:

    This movie, now one of my all-time favorites, is a great example of a mis-hyped movie. The original trailers, at least the ones on TV, had a serious tone. They took snippets from the darker parts of the movie and made it look like an intellectual sci-fi…which is what I was expecting at the theater.

    Wow, was I shocked when the show started. Disappointed to say the least. I’m ready for a Carl Sagan or Arthur C. Clarke film. What I got was Ruby Rod and Die Hard 3000. I actually walked out of the theater.

    I realized a few years later that my expectations (or disappointments) don’t change the quality of the film. I gave it another shot and immediately loved it. One of my favorite Gary Oldman performances to date. I bought it on DVD, then upgraded to Blu-ray when it became available. (This is definitely a Blu-ray movie.) I have probably seen it three dozen times or more. It’s kind of a comfort film now.

    As for your mention of Bruce Willis doing a down-on-his-luck John McClane performance, that’s pretty much his entire wheelhouse.

    – Die Hard series – down on his luck cop
    – The Last Boy Scout – down on his luck secret service man
    – The Fifth Element – down on his luck ex-military
    – Striking Distance – down on his luck Coast Guardsman
    – Mercury Rising – down on his luck FBI agent

    The list keeps going with Sin City, Surrogates, Red, Twelve Monkeys, and even The Kid. He’s very good at playing the washed up hero type. He’s the French version of Jean Reno.

    Anyway, great film. I’m glad others liked it as well.

    And by the way, in case anyone wanted to see her full name, it’s Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat. Those crazy Ukrainians.

    • Scophi says:

      I meant to say Willis is the American version of the French Jean Reno. Not the other way around. Oops.

    • I don’t remember the hype for the film (I was a senior in high school, so it should have been on my radar, but somehow it wasn’t). But I can see how if it was hyped as something different it could have been disappointing initially. Glad you were able to come around to it.

      And yes, Bruce Willis plays “basically John McClane” a lot. It’s something I’ve commented on before as well. But at least he’s good at it.

    • Definitely remember this movie as being grossly mismarketed. You would never have guessed from the promos and ads that it had any kind of humor at all. If I recall, it was kind of a flop in the theaters.

  7. Haha I love this film oh so much 😀
    Weird and wonderful world that gets created in this films story

  8. Bruce Willis, Ian Holm, Milla Jovonavich, Gary Oldman, and Chris Tucker is kind of the oddest cast assortment ever, isn’t it?

    Mark me down as someone who actually likes Tucker here.

    • It’s an unusual mix all right, especially since some of them have become more known for other things since.

      I like Tucker’s character OK, I just thought there was just a bit too much of him.

  9. mistylayne says:

    Love, love, love this movie! The operatic part is my favorite – so cool and beautiful. 🙂

  10. sati says:

    Love this movie! It’s so stylish and entertaining and Bruce Willis is bad ass in it. Milla Jovovich was pretty great too, loved her look in this movie.

    • Jovovich was good in this, wasn’t she? I know she gets knocked a lot recently — perhaps because of the movies she keeps being cast in — but she was fun and charming here. And yes, great look. And of course Bruce Willis is almost always bad ass.

      Thanks for commenting, Sati!

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