Luc Besson's latest hits the Big Screen and it feels like nobody cares - for good reason too - it's not worth seeing even if you've seen absolutely everything else out... twice.How the mighty have fallen. The writer/director behind The Big Blue and Nikita, who graduated to Hollywood with a literal bang for his masterpiece, Leon, and followed that up with the sci-fi fantasy The Fifth Element, hasn't done much of anything of note since, perhaps briefly sparking back to life for Lucy, but otherwise spending his time regurgitating old ideas in a series of screenplays for some paint-by-numbers mix-and-match actioners (the Taken films, From Paris with Love, Colombiana and The Transporter films, to name but a small selection). Valerian was supposed to be his great comeback; a Fifth Element for 2017, but ended up being a bit of a mess, and an utter flop, pretty-much bankrupting his company.
To follow it up, the once-legendary French filmmaker returns to what he does best or, perhaps more accurately, what he did best, very literally regurgitating almost every good idea he ever had into a mess of a movie which only succeeds in then insulting pretty much every classic scene he's ever made. Set in 80s, but with all the tech of a post-2000 universe, Anna would probably have been an unintentionally funny riot if it didn't spend quite so much of its time trying to insult its audience. As such, it doesn't even have the entertainment value of a bad Seagal film.
Maybe this is set in the Besson multiverse(TM)?
Where have you heard this before? Druggie girl gets involved in a botched robbery turned violent, pulled back from the brink of death with an opportunity to be trained as an assassin, with a male handler who likes her and a female boss who tries to teach her the ropes; gets sent aboard where she dreams of freedom and falls into a relationship on the other side of the world, and realises she will have to go to extreme lengths if she wants to escape her new life.
Anna is quite blatantly Besson's story to Nikita, only infused with Atomic Blonde sensibilities in a horrifically clumsy way, making you wish you were watching either of those movies instead, whether in the fight, flashback, or supposed 'plot' scenes, as a once-great filmmaker manages to somehow go above and beyond in a quest to prove he has absolutely nothing left to give audiences.
Supposedly a vehicle for model Sasha Luss to break into Hollywood (having had a small but effective role during the beach attack sequence in Valerian), Besson manages to elicit very little star power and zero acting skill out of the model - who was more effective during her five minutes under heavy CGI in Valerian than she is in the entire 2 hour runtime here - and may have killed her career before it even got started by cramming her into a movie that's this insulting.
Perhaps the weather is very different on Besson's planet. In his world - and he's old enough to surely remember - 80s Russia was a very different place. In Besson 80s everybody had mobile phones and laptops - even if you were a drug addict with no money for food - and, of course, access to the internet. Which hadn't yet been invented. And people were offered the chance for freedom in places like the Czech Republic. Which didn't exist yet. Or had to steal data using data sticks. Which hadn't been invented yet. Or leave video messages... Besson's 80s Russia was a wonderful smorgasbord of steampunk extravagances. If only this was meant to be a comedy. After all, the production designer must have been really working overtime to try and avoid any use of rotary phones in an 80s-set film. Maybe this is set in the Besson multiverse(TM)?
If he keeps on going at this rate, he's going to ruin all of the classics that he could otherwise be remembered for
It's not like giving it a proper retro flavour would have fixed the rest of it though, with Besson strangely inept at handling non-linear storytelling. It's literally like he'd just watched Atomic Blonde and decided he wanted to play with timelines a bit in an 80s Cold War Russia-set spy thriller about a blonde assassin but, since he's clearly had little experience with it, figured the best way to do it was to film the movie, then chop bits out at random intervals and mix it all up, and put dates in. We're in 1985. Then '89. Then 6 months earlier. Then 3 months later than that. Then 2 years earlier. A year later. Back in 1989. Or something. Every time he jumps, he thinks that he needs a huge amount of exposition to fill in the gaps, leaving your forehead sore from the amount of times you smack yourself. It's like he's never made a movie before, and with each successive 'fill in the gaps when you don't need to because we're not stupid but you're treating us like we are', it makes the prospect of walking out all the more enticing.
Besson has never had a handle on characters, painting male and female roles in horrifically antiquated ways - women are best served young and in skimpy underwear; men are best when they are older, seasoned, and fawning over said women - at times it feels uncomfortably autobiographical as his muse character is discovered and groomed for the limelight; as every man she encounters takes her to a quiet place and puts the moves on her, and Besson's lens slowly zooms in as if somehow that's enough to generate the chemistry that is clearly non-existent between the twenty-something model who can't act and her much older male counterparts who clearly can but have - more often than not - been forced to put on terrible accents under instruction of the voice coach from 'Allo 'Allo. And who just all leer at her.
But, all's not lost; he's empowered this woman. She can kick ass in lingerie. It's a hell of a skill, and it's not like we've ever seen that before. That's what empowers women, right? Having them turned into sex objects who can kill? Besson was always clumsy with his characters, but Anna is just insulting, leaving scenes between some of the leads positively uncomfortable, and action sequences the briefest highlight in an otherwise painfully long - chocked-to-the-gills-full-of-exposition - runtime, that is until you realise you've seen them all better when you saw them the first times in Nikita and Atomic Blonde (and, even when the action stops, entire scenes are lifted from Leon).
Amidst a flurry of #MeToo accusations, Anna was delayed from release and then eventually snuck out in amidst bigger and better movies, gifted zero marketing (it feels like the studios had to release it due to contractual obligations, but were sure as hell going to bury it anyway) dying an almost instant death at the Box Office and putting what might be the final nail in Besson's career. Which may not be all that bad a thing, because if he keeps on going at this rate, he's going to ruin all of the classics that he could otherwise be remembered for.
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