Last week I was suggesting that Luc Besson had moved away from directing because it all started to seem too much like hard work, but having seen his first piece of directing for (theoretically) adults since 2006, I'm coming round to the idea that he stopped directing because he'd forgotten how to do it properly. I had seen the trailer for Adele Blanc-Sec (my respect for the truth stops me from going along with the official title's assertion that there are adventures) back before I was deported to the occupied territories, and thought to myself; gosh wow; Luc Besson, finally back at the director's chair in a movie with the apparent DNA of the Mummy and Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider. That's gotta be good news. Then the thing sunk without trace; opened for a week on one screen earlier this year and that was that.
If I was smart, as opposed to being too clever for my own good, I'd learn from experience, and realise that if a movie doesn't get released, it's because the people who were hoping to make money from it - who believed in it - have realised that it's no good. No, like an idiot, the fact that the movie is being withheld from me just spurs me to find this great rarity and spend my hard earned money on it. Because I am stupid. Not as stupid as Adele Blanc-Sec the movie, because if I was that stupid I'd need to be helped to cross streets and cut up my own food, but stupider than I have any real right to be.
I still think it ought to have worked. They had - apparently - an established comic book character, and a pretty good setting; pre-WWI France. Adele Blanc-Sec is a pioneering woman journalist and author who goes off on all kinds of swashbuckling adventures. There's a tonne of comic book plots just lying around for a movie to be built around. Instead we get a fitful, misfiring half-comedy with a couple of small scale setpieces and a bunch of money thrown at animating a CGI pterodactyl and a bunch of reanimated mummies. I usually complain that movies don't spend enough money on writing, but here, where the script could have been picked up off the floor, with convenient drawings to assist the storyboards, it simply beggars conventional understanding that this was the best that Besson could do. He's been making kid's movies for the past five years, and maybe that's compromised his sense of what grown up movies are supposed to do, but this is a pale shadow of the drive (and lunacy) of movies like Nikita and Leon. I'm not saying Nikita or Leon are masterpieces, but they both motor along on the back of strong central performances and a really good eye for action staging. Adele Blanc-Sec spends way too much time away from its titular character and doesn't give her enough to do when the camera's on her.
I could be missing something; this might all be hilarious in France for some reason that I'm not culturally equipped to understand. But Besson isn't exactly a highbrow auteur; it would be well against the run of play for him to make a movie which would go over anyone's head. I think he just screwed it up, and I need to stop complaining that he's not directing any more and instead appreciate the stuff he got right when he was still good.