I know, I know, aging Millennial bitching about not being the cool young kid anymore. But I went back and watched The Fifth Element the other night (for those of you that weren’t around back then, it was a 1997 cheesy sci-fi blockbuster, and let me just say how terrifying it is to me that you’re old enough to read and understand these words), and man was it good.
Not like, A Good Movie good. The Fifth Element will never be A Good Movie. But it was a good movie, you know? And it had everything that you don’t see on-screen in blockbusters now.
Seriously. In no particular order: female orgasm (via tactfully offscreen cunnilingus). Realistically bad cops and military — not Dr. Strangelove caricatures; just a bunch of blunt instruments who only know how to do one thing, and keep doing it over and over again regardless of whether it’s what the situation calls for or not. More people of color than I’ve seen in a movie not specifically about minority culture or history for literally decades now, doing everything from being the President to being baggage handlers (just like in, you know, the real world, but not the world we see in movies most of the time).
That fantastic “Sleeping Beauty” moment where Bruce Willis kisses the sleeping Milla Jovovich, who wakes up, puts a gun to his head, and tells him “never without my permission.” We believe his abject apology, too — he feels sincere when he says “You’re right, you’re right. I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have done that. It was wrong to kiss you.” And not just because of the gun, although it’s pretty awesome that she doesn’t put it down or appear particularly forgiving even after he apologizes.
And don’t let’s forget Chris Tucker’s character Ruby Rhod, who was basically the walking definition of genderqueer: we don’t know what they’re identifying or presenting as; they’re just doing their thing and being sexy. Sometimes in a dress! Sometimes not! The clothes aren’t the point or the problem. It’s awesome.
That’s not to say it’s a perfect movie, either in terms of cinematography or representation. It’s a classic Bechdel test failure, with a classic Strong Female Protagonist (TM), who we’re told is a godlike alien “perfect being” but who needs a couple of old white men to plan her every move in saving the universe. She barely even speaks, has trouble walking for half the film, and needs Bruce Willis to come save her from a guy with a gun despite having martial arts directly programmed into her brain (this two years before Keanu Reeves knew kung fu in The Matrix, mind you). And yes, the perfect being decides to manifest itself as a young, skinny white woman, despite coming from what appears to be a race of intergalactic steampunk hedgehogs.
But it’s still a blockbuster that wasn’t just ahead of its time in the racial and sexual diversity of the world we see on-screen. It’s ahead of our time, now, seventeen years later, and that’s a thought so depressing it might just take another underrated 90s classic to cure. Cookie’s Fortune, anyone?