The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec review

Writer/director Luc Besson returns with The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a surprisingly brilliant action fantasy...

A few weeks ago, Zack Snyder delivered his magnum opus, Sucker Punch, a film reputedly about female empowerment that, despite its scenes of fantastical action, somehow left its quintet of pouting protagonists looking less like capable heroines and more like helpless victims.

Writer/director Luc Besson has had a longstanding fascination with tough, self-reliant female protagonists, from the cool assassin of La Femme Nikita to The Fifth Element‘s flame-haired enigma, Leeloo. The titular heroine of The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec, an Edwardian fantasy based on the comics of Jacques Tardi, follows in Besson’s tradition, and is inarguably the most engaging and funny character he’s brought to the screen in years.

Louise Bourgoin is perfectly cast as Adèle, a journalist and adventurer in early 20th century Paris. Far from the implausibly flawless actresses of Sucker Punch, Bourgoin clomps about like a proper tomboy. She may be beautiful, but she’s certainly not graceful, and has a great line in world-weary comments that rival those of that icon of laconic charm, Indiana Jones.

Adèle is the focal point of an insane story that swirls around her for a dizzying, riotous 107 minutes, taking in killer pterodactyls, an unusually erudite army of the undead, psychic scientists and greedy policemen.

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There’s a uniformly great cast, and some fun, cartoonishly drawn characters that bring those of Tardi’s comic vividly to life. Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) is unrecognisably hideous as decrepit villain, Dieuleveult, and I loved Gilles Lellouche’s performance as Inspecteur Albert Caponi, the dim policeman whose dinner is perpetually interrupted by supernatural events.

Blanc-Sec has the daftness of The Fifth Element without the distraction of a screaming Chris Tucker, and its use of Paris locations gives it a wonderful period feel, even if the film’s events are sometimes outrageously anachronistic. The roster of posh characters that turn up late on in the film are absolutely priceless, and wonderfully depicted. I won’t say any more about them here, as Adèle Blanc-Sec is undoubtedly a film best enjoyed cold, but the way they’re animated and voiced is spectacularly funny.

Come to think of it, the effects in Blanc-Sec were unexpectedly superb. One rather sketchy pterodactyl ride aside, the film’s numerous paranormal occurrences are brought to life with CG far superior to much of that seen in recent Hollywood films. It’s infinitely better, for example, than the pitiful efforts seen in The Last Airbender.

A film that refuses to take itself seriously, Blanc-Sec is the most fun I’ve had in the cinema for quite a while. Most of this year’s releases have been either desperately serious Oscar contenders, or hideously misfiring comedies (begone, Big Mommas).

Blanc-Sec, on the other hand, is a genuine ripping yarn, an Edwardian fantasy that cheerfully plays around with ideas made famous by writers like Arthur Conan Doyle or Robert Louis Stevenson, while adding a peculiar sense of fun all its own.

It’s little more than a big, daft romp, for sure, but it’s a reminder, if any were needed, that Hollywood doesn’t have the monopoly on fantasy adventure movies, and Blanc-Sec is surely as fun and entertaining as anything to emerge from La La Land in the last decade. It’s infinitely better than The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Indeed, there’s even a sequence in Blanc-Sec that appears to poke fun at that film’s now infamous ‘nuking the fridge’ scene.

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The film ends with the hint of a sequel even more irreverent and surreal than this one, and for once, I’m happy to say that I’d welcome a second Blanc-Sec.

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4 out of 5