If you’re looking for a comic book fix this spring that delivers a hammer blow to your senses, Thor isn’t the only option.  While the Viking muscles his way to box office glory, a little known French heroine proves she is more than a match for the Marvel superstar.  Luc Besson’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) is a surreal tale that introduces us to a character whose sheer vitality is spellbinding.

Known for his offbeat plotlines and otherworldly style, the director’s latest film bares all of his trademarks with one notable difference – it’s watchable.  Besson’s undisputed filmmaking talent is often let down by incomprehensible plots and poor acting such as in The Fifth Element (1997).  Here, we see him at his best, adapting the period fantasy adventure of Jacques Tardi’s seventies comic series.

Adèle (Louise Bourgoin) is a popular novelist spicing up early 20th century Paris with her fantastical misadventures.  On a mission to cure her invalid sister, she turns to an unlikely source of assistance in the form of a professor’s mind control experiments.  Consequently, a series of comical situations arise involving an arch nemesis, a winged monster, and Egyptian mummies.

It’s not hard to see why parallels with the Indiana Jones series exist – an early tomb-raiding sequence is a glorious tribute to the iconic adventurer.  However, here the similarities end as a yarn unfolds which would leave poor Indy scratching his head and logging onto confused.com for answers.  The trilogy’s formula of whip-cracking hi-jinks proved well past its sell by date in 2008 with an ill-advised return in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

A one-woman character study dominates this film, so it’s fortunate that with so much hinging on the lead role, Bourgoin is a delight.  The former TV weather girl gives a commanding performance that is astonishing given her scarce acting credits.  Her brash handle of action and comedy is sublime, delivering killer one-liners after mummifying her foe or canoeing in a coffin.

For anyone expecting a female Indiana Jones, Adèle provides a slap in the face as the narrative that follows refuses to be so easily categorised.  The tangents that lay around every corner are so joyously bizarre you will not see them coming.  This is a definite return to form for Besson, who in Adèle has brought the most richly drawn comic character in years to the big screen.

5/5

2010 FR, Cert 12A, 107mins, French
Out now on general release.

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