Sensing the outbreak of the First World War, the Mondoshawan, ancient architects of Earth, return to repossess four mystical stones representing the four elements and a casket containing a mysterious, omniscient fifth. Three centuries later the universe is disrupted by an evil force assisted by the forces of Zorg (Gary Oldman). Mondoshawan priest Cornelius (Ian Holm) predicts it can be destroyed only with a weapon built from the five elements. The battle begins unwittingly, when Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) is discovered and regenerated at a government laboratory.
Escaping her prison, she encounters wiseacre New York cabbie and ex-soldier Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), who escorts her to Cornelius. The priest realises the truth: Leeloo is the fifth element, and holds the key to peace. She must be reunited with the stones, which have been held in safety on the planet Fhloston. Revisiting his military past, Dallas prepares to protect Leeloo en route but Zorg and his mercenaries are determined to ensure they never arrive...
With an $80 million budget this European production was packaged as a wake-up call to Hollywood. Ironically, they had to hire an A-list leading man and cherry-pick Tinseltown's back catalogue to do it. The tributes are numerous, including a visual nod to Blade Runner (and casting of ex-replicant Brion James). Having hoarded the story for 20 years, Luc Besson inevitably indulges himself, reworking elements of Nikita, and Léon, with the addition of Digital Domain - James Cameron's company - on extravagant special effects, including the largest indoor explosion ever filmed.
Besson's undeniable energy, coupled with the vision of Moebius's comic book artist and design inspiration, produces a diverting pantomime that certainly indicated a change in direction for European cinema.