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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A classic heroine brings out Besson’s slower side for the best

Illustration for article titled A classic heroine brings out Besson’s slower side for the best

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of yet another superhero movie, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, has us thinking back on stellar adaptations of non-superhero comics.


The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

Though Luc Besson has become known for producing and writing Euro-American action-junk hybrids (and occasionally directing one himself, as with 2013’s The Family), he indulges his lighter side with The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec. His 2010 adventure movie was never released theatrically in the United States—possibly, because it adapts a French comic book series, or possibly, because the movie eschews the traditional firepower associated with Besson’s usual exports.

Instead, the film favors a winking sense of innocence as it brings heroine Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) to life. An independent woman in early 20th century Paris, Adèle has the classic adventure-pulp career path where one job (internationally recognized writer/reporter) serves as unofficial cover for her real calling (getting into elaborate scrapes). As played by Bourgoin, she’s unflappable, impatient with horses and camels, even brusque—despite her catchphrase, an inevitably non-romantic cry of “Into my arms!”

This particular set of scrapes involves ancient mummies sought by Adèle and a revived pterodactyl terrorizing Paris (as well as a supporting cast that’s nearly all-male and all-mustachioed; European adventure movies sure love their bumbling inspectors). These elements aren’t arranged into action set pieces so much as sequences of elaborate whimsy; the pterodactyl isn’t a fearsome beast to be slain, and the mummies are treated with surprising dignity. Besson often frames the characters (and even creatures) head-on, facing the camera; the movie’s best shots have the clarity of comics panels.

Besson smashes and grabs from all manner of contemporary sources, not just the obvious stuff like Indiana Jones movies and related rip-offs like the 1999’s The Mummy. The film’s opening, cutting around Paris as a narrator introduces a variety of colorful characters, recalls Amelie, while Adèle’s initial adventure in a desert tomb elaborates on the beginning of the director’s own The Fifth Element. Without an action movie’s urgent pace, the movie ends a bit less excitingly than it begins, but it reveals a side Besson should indulge more often.

Availability: The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec is available to stream on Netflix. It’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix, or to rent or purchase through the major digital services.