If Chris Tucker screaming as him and Bruce Willis dodge bullets from aliens doesn’t give you that four out of four feeling, then a little part of the 90’s might be dead inside of you.
The Fifth Element (1997), inspired by the comic series: The Circles of Power, is typical 90’s in all the best ways, yet timeless in its approach. An alien, known as Mister Shadow, fastly approaching Earth as Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) and Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) race to find the “fifth element.” Replete with poor fashion choices, fluorescent hair, and Benny Hill comedy, somehow this film has become a modern classic.
The world building is amazing. The Fifth Element is one of the few sci-fi films that isn’t completely aping 2001: A Space Odyssey (Get it? Apes? 2001: A Space Odyssey? No?). It is surrounded by surprisingly strong visual effects, including a unique design for an alien spaceship, in the shape of a cocoon. Initially set in Egypt in 1914 (Much like Stargate), aliens (The Mondoshawans) have given humans the ultimate weapon: the fifth element. This element is a super element, a combination of fire, wind, earth, and water, and most importantly, genetically perfect. Flash forward 300 years, and we are met with Korben, a retired army officer driving cabs in New York. He’s not great at his new job, which is surprising because Bruce Willis feels like someone you’d meet in a cab in New York after a drunk night. He’d probably kick you out of his cab and give a good “Fuck you,” but you’d have a good time anyways, at least enough for a decent Facebook update. Willis reprises his stock character, the smart-ass reluctant hero, to great effect. He might be the most interesting action hero of the 90’s.
In a turn of events, he comes into contact with the fifth element/Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), who surprise, surprise, is a woman. This is radical. An ultimate and all-powerful being is a woman. The Fifth Element was ahead of its time with its casting. Giving a woman a strong role was a sign of a feminist rise in the 90’s, one that has not come completely to fruition today. Even today, this casting would be a welcomed change.
The protection of the fifth element is given unto a select group of priests, in this case Ian Holm, and is under siege from Zorg (Gary Oldman) as both race to Fhloston Paradise, a space resort. 1. What better 90’s bad guy name than “Zorg?” 2. What better man to play him than THE Gary Oldman. Oldman has fantastic comic timing, and his random southern drawl as a futuristic arms dealer based in New York (a New York with flying cars because it’s not the future without flying cars), makes no sense, but we accept it anyways because it’s Oldman. And really, that’s part of what makes the Fifth Element special: its ability to combine action with comedy. Complete with a typical 90’s upbeat bumble bee bass for any awkward moment, the film moves from sex gags to Benny Hill mayhem, which is taken to a giddy level with the insertion of Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker).
Once again, the Fifth Element was ahead of its time, with the creation of a gender-bending androgynous character in Rhod. Tucker’s high-pitch screams at the sign of any danger, his flippant pre-Madonna personality, and steady but stutter-stop repetitions of “Korben my man,” gives the film a unique and diverse array of characters.
The one fault that could be found with the Fifth Element, is that it doesn’t fully carry out the powerful woman premise. Leeloo is still vulnerable, emotionally vulnerable, and is too dependent on the love of a man to fully reach her potential. Still, her ability to consume information, learn fighting styles in a whim, handle a gun, and evade the capture of a mostly male driven society, makes her an early prototype for a form of female heroin that still has not fully materialized.
The Fifth Element, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, is a classic film. The world building, the comedy, the fact that the visual effects still hold up, and the characters created makes it one of the more unique sci-fi premises in recent memory. It’s incredibly 90’s in its style, but ahead of its time. By the rolling of the credits, you’re left saying, “Korben my man…”
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