Luc Besson knows his heroines. From Nikita’s tortured assassin to Léon’s vengeful tween, the French filmmaker is no stranger to bum-kicking babes. And after an all-too-long absence from the directing landscape, Besson’s back with another.
Her name is Adèle Blanc-Sec. Single-minded and no-nonsense, she’s a period crossbreed of Lara Croft and Murder, She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher – a cheerfully colourful antidote to Lisbeth Salander’s gothy inclinations.
Trading in the gloom of his grainy ’90s thrillers, Adèle finds Besson revelling in whimsy and wonder. Adapted from Jacques Tardi’s early ’70s comic book series, Adèle’s first movie adventure begins in 1912 Paris. She’s working overtime to find a cure for her sister, who’s been rendered little more than a pale vegetable after a freak accident.
In her quest, Adèle needs the help of expert telepath Espérandieu, who’s just used his powers to hatch a 136 million year old egg, giving birth to a real life pterodactyl.
Mixing in mummies, buffoon-like police inspectors and a mélange of comedy disguises, it would be easy to dismiss Adèle as a fanciful kiddy romp from the same Besson who made Arthur and the Invisibles. But Besson’s film isn’t without its own insidious charms.
Our heroine unrobes in a moody bathroom scene lifted straight from the comic, while the humour is black as the devil’s soul, with giant hatpins embedded in skulls and accidental decapitation inducing guffaws and grimaces in equal measure.
Relative newcomer Louise Bourgoin is also a delight as the titular heroine; fun sidebars following her treks to Egypt and attempted costumed jail breaks prove she’s a dab hand at both comedy and drama. But Adèle does suffer a slightly fractured feel, blending meandering Amelie-style narrative offshoots with cartoon-like energy. And despite some lavish visuals, there are some embarrassing moments of low-grade CGI – not least when a character attempts to ride the pterodactyl.
For Besson, Adèle is clearly the first in what he hopes will become a franchise. While a trip to our heroine’s first big screen adventure reaps some fine moments, it’s hard to say if anybody will be pressing for a return ticket. 3