The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Review

Adèle Blanc-Sec, a popular Parisian novelist, in the early 20th century is a daring globe-trotter. With a personal quest to solve and not just another story to tell her extraordinary adventure takes her into mix-ups with Egyptian grave robbers, executioners, police and a pterodactyl no less.

Luc Besson’s employment of strong anti-feminine roles is a well known feature of his work. Natalie Portman as Mathilda in Léon to Anne Parillaud as Nikita in the film of the same name are evidence of this. He has even added to the voluminous moving tapestry of that greatest of quixotic, dynamic and self-determined women, Joan of Arc. It will come as no surprise then that Besson has chosen to give cinematographic life to another strong female protagonist in The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. It will also come as no surprise that he has chosen a relative newcomer on the movie acting scene in Louise Bourgoin to play his lead just as he did with Natalie Portman, Anne Parillaud and Milla Jovovich.

However, here the character of Adèle Blanc-Sec is not his own. Adèle continues to be written by Jacques Tardi and the comic book heroine is a much loved icon of French popular culture; but as we’ve seen Besson fears nothing in taking on characters with strong cultural resonances. Essentially another entry into the surreal but wonderful world of comic book adaptations Adèle is no less super an individual in her time than Batman is in his.

Besson’s adaptation is a tough one to call. With only allusions to the deeper ideological and moral themes of the comic series he places the merit of this feature solely on the shoulders of the adventure itself, which in truth sits cautiously between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

The characters largely exist as clichéd caricatures each with their mandatory role to fulfil. The dozy police inspector (Gilles Lellouche) hierarchically handed the task of tracking down an awakened pterodactyl, the inept hunter he drafts in to kill the beast (Mathieu Amalric), the shy but brilliant love-struck courter of Adèle (Nicolas Giraud) and the mad professor swept up by events (Jacky Nercession). All of which act as stupid sounding boards to greater exemplify the qualities of Adèle herself.

With such comparisons as Amélie meets Indiana Jones the audience will be understandably underwhelmed. More apt a comparison might be Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit meets The Mummy.

For it is on Louise Bourgoin’s performance that the film soars when it more than likely otherwise would have sunk. Bourgoin’s acting is full of tenacity, vibrancy and a lot of good comical timing. Her modern woman in a just about pre-modern time is a regular role but one that she injects with enough personality, charisma and wonderfully lavish outfits to make her own. Her balance of wit and sex appeal gives her character heaps of credibility on both accounts. The performance keeps the film fresh and lively and it’s obvious that she’s having fun in the role and you’ll likely feel that fun a bit infectious.

A bit of fun is where the film stops however, even with a wicked pyramid joke thrown in. The third act has a distinctly TV movie feel about it becoming much less cinematic than the previous acts. The special effects are somewhat jarring looking quite like a cinematic scene from a game. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the projectionists had accidently switched to a high budget Doctor Who episode. Aggravating too are some of the unexplained occurrences that will have audience members filling in the plot holes and explanations for themselves.

On the whole though this is a visually stylish if emotionally limited adventure that is worth the 107 minutes running time. The views of Paris and its museums are elegant enough to engage, but you’ll need a hefty suspension of disbelief as the plot becomes more and more surreal by the minute.

Verdict

Try going in thinking it’s just called The Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec and you’ll leave feeling a little less short-changed.

3/5

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