When The Fifth Element was released in 1997, Luc Besson was one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. Much like fellow action-junkie Michael Bay, he had one commercial hit under his belt in the form of Leon and film-going audiences wondered where he’d go next. Bay followed Bad Boys with his best film to date in The Rock, Besson couldn’t quite live up to the dramatic quality of Leon, so went the opposite way by producing a space-set action film that is as bonkers as it is entertaining.
In the middle of the 23rd Century, ˜The Great Evil’ appears in the form of a large ball of fire. The high priest of an ancient religion called Mondoshawan holds the key that unlocks the only weapon capable of stopping the Great Evil. On the way back to Earth to recover the great weapon, they are ambushed by foot soldiers hired by industrialist Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) who plans to win favour with the entity in exchange for power.
The surviving scientists are only able to recover the hand of The Fifth Element, which they use to create a woman, known as Leeloo (Milla Jovavich). Scared of her new surroundings Leeloo escapes and falls into the cab of Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) who sets about trying to find someone to take responsibility for her, before being embroiled in the ancient struggle himself.
As you can tell, the plot of The Fifth Element is part Star Wars, part Time Bandits and just a little bit insane. The cast, to their credit, throw themselves entirely into their parts and even the irritating Chris Tucker finds a niche as an irritating DJ. Besson is careful to create an interesting environment in which to set the action of The Fifth Element, and his idea for the future is so bright, colourful with elements of believable technological advancement that the audience can’t help but feel engrossed.
When The Fifth Element needs to crank up the action, it has no problems in blowing up spaceships, having innovative fights and generally destroying the Universe. The various alien creatures are not CG and as such have that wonderful, tangible feel and while they are as silly as the plot, they work within the confines of a sweeping space opera such as this.
If there is one problem with The Fifth Element it’s that the story is actually the same as any number of science fiction films, but it’s in the presentation that it succeeds. Like some candy cane coloured vision of a dystopian future, Besson is able to overwhelm and impress at every opportunity. The Fifth Element is something that will be burnt into your minds eye for years to come, and it deserves praise for breathing some new life into both science fiction and action films.