Revisiting movies I've recently acquired
The Fifth Element is a rather colorful and comic book-like science fiction film, a little chaotic, with some rather flat, but still enjoyably large archetypal characters, and a rather thin conflict and character development and yet with plenty of interesting multi-faction plotting. While the story isn't especially memorable in that it seems like a mash-up of many stories that came before, the visual style of the film is, resulting in a rather unique piece of science fiction for its time that is certainly entertaining, but limited.
Basically, the titular Fifth Element is the universe's ultimate weapon and every five thousand years, some kind of ultimate evil will appear to destroy every living thing in the universe. The element and the four activating stones are taken off of Earth for safekeeping and a line of priests left to await their return. And then, a deadly living planet appears at the edge of the solar of system. Meanwhile, the alien race that is on route to Earth with the Fifth Element and the stones is destroyed by some other aliens by order of Zorg (Gary Oldman), a maniacal tycoon. Meanwhile, Earth resurrects the Fifth Element, who turns out to be Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) who, during an escape from the military, crashes into ex-military guy, now taxi driver Korben Dallas' (Bruce Willis) cab. And there begins a race to procure the missing stones between Zorg, the vengeful aliens that Zorg betrays, Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) and Leeloo, and Korben as demanded by the government, all to save or destroy the universe.
And from that description, there's obviously a lot going on in the plot with lots of factions creating some interesting, if somewhat busy, amounts of conflict and intrigue. This does a whole lot to help the otherwise rather simple good versus evil story that doesn't really have any real depth or complexity at its core and is basically an "assemble the superweapon to defeat the bad guy" story, made complex by all the factions as well as the superweapon being a living human being. But spending any real time looking at what happens in the story results in plot holes and logic failures becoming apparent, which aren't that problematic in the middle of the frantic action, but make apparent just how thin the story actually is. The most obvious point of this is the rather unbelievable "love" that Korben has for Leeloo and its role in the story.
Fortunately, director Luc Besson manages to make the most of his handwaving and together with a visually striking, even if a little dizzying, production and design team, puts together a still memorable movie, with bright, memorable costumes, sets, all with a distinctly European flair, and predictably engaging action scenes from Besson. The cast is also quite good, making the most of their basic archetypes, with Oldman yet again creating a rather memorable villain in a Besson film. Sometimes the stylistic choices, much like the plotting and pacing can be dizzying to the point of incoherence, like around Ruby Rhod's (Chris Tucker) scenes, but the film still manages a degree of agreeableness all the same.
And I think that agreeableness is what keeps The Fifth Element interesting despite its chaos and thin story. In some ways it's an affectionate take on the simpler science fiction space operas of yesteryear and that tone is almost enough to wave aside any concerns with the story and the presentation. Almost. While the film is visually engaging thanks to its unique look, which is aided by Besson's direction and performances from the actors, the story is simply not particularly compelling, even if helped a bit by added complexities to the plot and that takes a lot of the wind out of The Fifth Element's sails. Even so, it's still fun enough to act as entertainment for those looking for it in a science fiction form. And for a genre rife with weak entries, especially during the time that The Fifth Element debuted, that's still a welcome presence. 7/10.