This movie is grossly underrated, but I think that’s because people went into it expecting something entirely different from what they got. They went in expecting one of the following: Die Hard in space, Star Wars, or Independence Day.
The first group saw the movie as cluttered — they were expecting a simple action thriller where the hero is one person, *maybe* with a sidekick, and plenty of villanous cannon-fodder. What they got was a conflict between multiple heroes with individual agendas who all basically wanted the same thing but kept getting in each others’ way. The fast editing, wild visuals, and bizarre costuming just made it look sillier.
The second group saw it as small-minded — they were expecting a well-thought-out SF epic where an ancient evil must be defeated by an ancient and nicely arcane good. What they got was a farce where the mystical rituals were nothing more than plot devices and ultimately the fate of the universe rested on a bunch of self-centered idiots. They were disappointed when nobody explored the ancient Mondoshewan race, when the hero only visited one other planet and then came straight back to Earth, when the “ancient evil” had only a corporate executive as its lackey.
The third group were expecting a repeat of the previous year’s hugely successful “Independence Day.” They were expecting a massive invasion from hideous creatures that would ultimately be repelled by an unlikely but very plucky patriotic hero (or group of heroes) who boldly went out and saved the world in its hour of need. With a bit of wisecracking thrown in for comic relief. What they got was a hero who had to be *pestered* into saving the world, a general disrespect for authority, incompetant villains, incompetant heroes, and a general impression that the entire human race is a laughingstock. Worth saving, but still a laughingstock.
What all these groups didn’t realize going in was that this movie is French. And this is *exactly* what French farce is all about. It’s comedy, it’s silly, it’s surreal, it’s not meant to be taken too seriously, and it is a way to accept that life is priceless, although those who live life tend to be quite ridiculous. How do the French have a low crime rate *and* a complete disrespect for authority? This is how. They don’t really disrespect authority.
And that’s what this is about. The world is about to end. And it’s *funny*. Really. Not in the sense of your typical American situational comedies, but rather in the sense of French farce. That is to say, it’s not the situation that’s funny — the situation is the direst of all imaginable tragedies. What’s funny is the fact that everybody acts like an idiot in the face of it, from the military trying to take over despite having just proven they have no idea what they’re doing, to the permanently baffled priest, to the government posturing uselessly away. It’s a good movie, but you’ve got to understand that it’s also a very silly movie. Go into it with a light heart and you’ll enjoy. Don’t expect adrenalin or epics or patriotism. This is about the human condition, and how fundamentally ridiculous it is.