The Fifth Element is one of the most visually spectacular movies I've seen. While peppered with attention capturing details of life in the future and philosophical insights into human nature, the plot leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Set in the 23rd century, the plot is a standard one: good conquers evil with a bit of love and some lady luck. With such stunning visuals, a complex plot would have only detracted from the movie. However, the problem is with the execution. Director Luc Besson focuses too much on the details of the visuals and too little on the details of the plot. When I walked out of the movie, I was in awe, but feeling empty at the same time.
The fifth element is part of a weapon that is used in conjunction with the four other elements (Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water) against an evil force that threatens Earth every 5000 years. The weapon was created by a race of aliens, the Mondoshawan, who safeguard its presence on earth in Egypt. But when they fear the impending arrival of World War I, the Mondoshawan take away the sacred stones representing the four elements to be returned when the evil force next arrives near planet earth during the course of its 5000 year cycle, approximately 250 years later in the year 2259.
In the year 2259, as the Mondoshawan return to complete their mission, their ship is shot down through the orders of an agent of the evil force, Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman). However, the Mondoshawan, wise in their ways, did not trust humans and the ship supposedly containing the stones turns out to be a decoy. Meanwhile, the good guys on Earth are able to salvage a few cells from the destroyed ship and reconstruct, using the genetic information in the cells, the entire organism representing the cells.
The reconstructed organism turns out to be a perfect human female, with the short name Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). In fright, she busts out of the regeneration chamber and runs into Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a New York City cabbie who had been a highly decorated fighter pilot.
Leeloo's mission is to find a priest, Victor Cornelius (Ian Holm), who carries with him the tradition of activating the fifth element against the evil force. President Lindberg (Tom Lister Jr.), who was earlier made aware of this information, enlists Dallas' aid to retrieve the four stones from the Diva Plava Laguna (Maïwenn Le Besco). Along with the aid of DJ Ruby Rhod (played hilariously by Chris Tucker), Leeloo and Dallas confront Zorg and the evil force for control of the elements.
While the plot may seem like a combination of many trend-setting sci-fi movies (Star Wars, Heavy Metal, Bladerunner, Metropolis, and Brazil) on the surface, I think it goes a bit deeper than that. Given a longer movie, we probably could've seen more of the detailed aspects of the writing come out without sacrificing any of the visuals, and I that I think would have made watching this all the more worthwhile.
Even though my initial comments come off negatively, I think this is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. And it is not because of the visuals, but because of the subtle messages hidden here and there through the movie. There is, of course, the aspect of war that's tackled not with words but with tears rather profoundly. But more profound is Zorg's display of creation through destruction, and how we adapt to the changing environment by modifying our genetic makeup.
Besson's vision of the future, like in the case of Terry Gilliam, is probably more realistic than one by Gene Roddenberry or George Lucas in Star Trek and Star Wars respectively. That alone makes this movie worth watching. The soundtrack is excellent as well.