The Fifth Element Should Be Boron
If you haven’t seen Luc Besson’s Lucy, you are using at least 10% of your brain. It looks like one of the stupidest movies of the year and, indeed, this review by Christopher Orr of the Atlantic seems to confirm my suspicions. If you like reading exhaustive pans of foolish movie ideas, by all means read it. Otherwise, just pretend Lucy never happened and go on with your life. It has all the hallmarks of an overly simplistic, music-video approach to a concept that is much better understood than the filmmakers seem to have considered and is, in fact, not really as interesting as they would have us believe. To borrow a phrase from my friend Whitaker, it’s a dumb person’s idea of a smart movie.
If that phrase and Luc Besson seem to belong together, there is a reason for that: he’s done this before. Indeed, I’ve found most of Besson’s work to be, at best, ‘shallow and watchable.’ It only goes downhill from there. His best movies barely manage to make sense and yet, for some reason, some of them are adored and held up as classics. Chief among these is The 5th Element. It has been described as a ‘tour de force’ and ‘wonderfully entertaining’ and, well, I have to disagree. The 5th Element is one of those movies that is good until you think about it at all, at which point it becomes terrible. Of course, as Roger Ebert said in his review:
We are watching “The Fifth Element” not to think, but to be delighted.
So, fine. The trouble is that the ‘delight’ offered by this film is of the most fleeting and shallow variety. Pacific Rim has more depth than this, and that is saying something, let me tell you.
What It Does Well
The 5th Element is a visual masterpiece – I won’t deny it that. The visual effects were stunning for their time and still hold up today, and the costume and set design is interesting and innovative. The most (and only) thing the movie can offer is a series of stunning visual displays. Seen for the first time, they do, in fact, stun. The problem with effects-as-story, though, is that they don’t last or make a deep emotional impression (which I discuss here in greater depth).
For all that, the effects make the film watchable, which is as high as it can really go. Yes, it is watchable. Yes, it is basically entertaining. However, it’s the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy – brightly colored, weightless, sweet, and wholly lacking in substance.
Now, let’s discuss its flaws, shall we?
The Plot Makes No Sense
So, basically what we have here is an ancient evil that shows up every 5000 years to ‘destroy life’. This evil is a big fiery/dark ball of (something) that floats (somewhere in space). The only way to stop it is four magic rocks and the Fifth Element – a girl who is the ‘perfect being’. Said girl is blown up on her way to Earth along with the Space Penguins who are bringing her there. Modern science rebuilds her, though. Then she escapes. She meets a cab driver. They go on a mission to a cruise ship to get the rocks from a singing squid-woman. Then, it’s back to Earth to stop the ultimate evil, which presumably would have been successful had no one had any matches or Leeloo refused to
make-out with Bruce Willis. The defeated evil becomes a new moon. So, what is wrong with this? Where to begin:
- If you’re the Space Penguins taking the World’s Only Hope back to where it needs to fight the Final Battle, wouldn’t you hire an escort of some kind? Maybe put a gun on your ship? *Something?*
- Why are people helping the thing that will Destroy All Life? Aren’t they alive? The Evil gives no sign it plans on leaving survivors, so, what the hell is Zorg’s excuse?
- Since the Mangalores blew up the Space Penguin ship so easily, why don’t they just blow up the cruise ship, too? Why bother with the whole hostage situation nonsense?
- So, if every time the evil is defeated it makes a new moon, how do they know it will come back in 5000 years since it only seems to have been here once. You need two times at least to establish a pattern. If it’s been here more than once before, where are all the other moons? How did life survive the first time through in order to tell the tale?
- If the great Evil is going to destroy all Life, why does it only go to Earth? Do all the other planets not count? Is it just going to kill planets one at a time? Seems inefficient. Seems like it could just dodge the 5th Element and kill all the *other* life in the universe first.
- Why does the government need to suborn a radio sweepstakes to get Dallas on the space cruise? Got to be an easier way.
- The Blue Diva can’t give the rocks over *before* the concert? What is so damned important about the concert, anyway?
- So the advanced Space Penguins still use Earth/Air/Fire/Water as some kind of elemental guideposts? How the hell did they end up with spaceships?
I could go on. And on. And on.
But Seriously, Nothing Makes Sense
It isn’t just the plot, though – it’s also every single solitary aspect of the world. Well, okay, with one or two notable examples: First, the multipass (makes sense) and, second, the fact that Rudy Rod is so damned annoying and does a radio show (also makes sense, considering the distances data needs to be transmitted and, generally speaking, how
annoying pop culture figures are in real life). That’s it. Everything else makes no sense. To enumerate:
- Flying cars are a bad idea and probably won’t ever happen unless everybody is on autopilot, and even not then.
- The cops seem content to blow up their whole city to pull over an errant taxi driver and, by the way, why do their cars have a million machine guns?
- Are there only five people in the world government?
- How the hell does the president know or care what this random priest thinks?
- That naval officer who fired his missiles when the president was expressing his doubts would be court martialed.
- Why do people ooze oil from their heads when talking with the Evil?
- Where the hell is everything, anyway? Like, where is Earth in relation to the Evil in relation to the Diva’s cruise ship? It doesn’t seem to make any physical sense.
- So, when the Blue Diva said she’d bring the stones to Earth, what she really meant was “I’m going on this cruise, right, and you can meet me there at some point when I’m kinda-sorta near Earth, but not exactly.”
- Why the hell is there a dude on a blimp selling things outside a window? Isn’t he going to be hit by a bus?
- Where does all the crap in Dallas’s apartment go when it slides into the walls, seeing how it must maintain the same volume since Leeloo wasn’t crushed when she went up in the shower.
- Are you trying to tell me that a being that can pummel a dozen armed aliens into unconsciousness/death is going to be shocked and appalled at the existence of war? Holy hypocrisy, Batman!
The Characters are Flat
There is not a single interesting or nuanced character in this film. Not one. Everybody is a caricature of something. There is no character arc for anybody. Dallas is basically the same guy he was at the beginning of the movie, except now he has a girlfriend. Leeloo never learns to talk like an adult and never reconciles her horror for war with her own violent tendencies. The President never figures out what’s going on. Zorg is a jerk and then dies. The Priest is just the Priest and has no other definitive characteristics I can name. Ruby Rod is basically Shaggy from Scooby Doo, except with confidence and his own radio show. Zzzzzzzz….
I could go on, but I think you get my point. This movie does not deserve the hype it has received over the years. It is pretty and (kinda) fun, but ultimately pointless and nonsensical. As Luc Besson’s best movie, it goes to show the limitations the director labors under – he is a visual master, but his stories are the stuff of a fifteen-year-old’s chapbook. I should know – I’ve got stories like this in my fifteen-year-old chapbooks. They’re not good, guys. Come to think of it, they’re a lot like The 5th Element.