Film Torments: The Fifth Element (1997)
TORMENTS in November (no theme this month) kicks off with a cult sci-fi beloved by many and despised by most, from the esteemed director of Lucy; Andrew tackles The Fifth Element.
LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL is a fantastic film. Gary Oldman, Jean Reno and Natalie Portman starring in a hard hitting, actually quite funny action-thriller about an assassin. Luc Besson does a grand job as director and writer, having produced one of the finest films in a year that also saw the release of The Lion King and Forrest Gump.
But this review isn’t about Léon: The Professional.
Besson’s next directorial feature was The Fifth Element. Oh God, where to begin with this one. Starring Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Mila Jovovich, Ian Holm and *shudder* Chris Tucker, The Fifth Element was intended as a summer blockbuster movie with some big name actors taking the lead. But here’s the problem with this film: It’s a mess. It’s one big, loud, colourful, confusing, befuddled mess.
At this point I’d like sum up the plot, but it’s very tricky. We start off in Egypt for some reason, where some aliens come and take an element(?). And then we fast forward to the future and Bruce Willis is a general who is taxi driver for some reason. And then some aliens attack a ship and then these people create Milla Jovovich “cause she’s a fifth element(?)”. Then they go to Ian Holm and he does… something. And then Bruce Willis goes to see an opera who has four other elements for some reason(?). But I digress.
Needless to say this film left me baffled. Was it an action film? Was it a comedy? It’s honestly hard to tell a lot of the time. Every joke is utterly terrible. There are some slapstick moments which are incredibly cringe worthy. Take Gary Oldman’s character Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (?); he’s a terrific actor… dolled up in ridiculous costumes with over the top prosthetics and given the worst Southern drawl I’ve ever heard. Not even Oldman can salvage this role.
But there are far, far worse things about this film. Firstly, let’s address some of the lighter issues of this film. As previously mentioned, the plot is one major flaw. Talk shows, alien invasions, ancient elemental prophecies, love, weird comedic elements; you can’t cram this all into one film and still expect it to make sense. Then, on top of that, you slap these overly complicated names just to make the task of comprehension even more difficult.
Some aspects of the plot just float around without any resolution or explanation. Why does Bruce Willis suddenly fall in love with Milla Jovovich? Why is he not in the army anymore? Why does he have to go through the tedious process of ‘winning’ a competition to gain access to the elements? And then we have (and this a pet peeve of mine) the design of this film. Campy and fluorescent as well as impractical, The Fifth Element takes its comic book roots and puts it on crack.
Milla Jovovich’s skimpy outfits are one step away from being Slave-Leia stupid while Bruce Willis looks like a dumbed-down version of G.I. Joe. Then we have the opera singer who looks like Aayla Secura from Star Wars but if Michael Bay had designed her. Much like the plot, the design is overloaded and all over the place. It screams for attention without lending anything useful to the film.
But I’ve saved the best for last. Two words for you dear readers: Chris Tucker.
Rarely in my life have I encountered a character as insufferable as Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod. Jar Jar Binks, Wendy Torrance and Chris O’Donnell as Robin; I’d cut off my right arm to have any of these characters in place of bloody Rudy Rhod. When Besson sat down to write this thing, why did he think this movie needed to be any quirkier than it already is?
I’ve never had the urge to kill before, but watching Tucker scream his head off as some (relatively good) action unfolds around him made me lust for blood. Any dramatic intensity that can be found in the climax of this film is subsequently lost as Tucker screams “OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD” through EVERY SINGLE SECOND. This film made a lot of mistakes, but writing this character was the worst of all.
I know a lot of people have a soft spot for this movie, which I can kind of understand. However, that doesn’t detract from that fact that the plot is all over the place, the tone and design is unbelievably kitsch, it introduces many questions to the audience that are never answered and it brings in one of the most irritating characters (if not the most irritating) in all of cinema history. Some might now call the film a ‘cult classic’, others still see it as great science fiction film. Gary Oldman, however… “Oh, no, I can’t bear it.”
You and me both Gary, you and me both.
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