The spirit of Indiana Jones lives on, not in the galumphing heroics of National Treasure or Tomb Raider but in the daft but charming French action romp The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. It's based on a series of much-loved comic books (by Jacques Tardi) that Luc Besson tried to option years ago and failed. Now, rather Tardily, as it were, Besson has his wish and delivers an action fantasy that goes very broad at times yet never loses its naughty sense of fun.
Set at the end of 1911 in a Paris still clinging to the Belle Époque – the can-can gets an inevitable scene – it starts with the hatching of an egg, nestled in the natural history museum. Out comes a full-size pterodactyl, ready to fly and hungry after 135 million years gestating. The city is gripped with terror of the winged beast, which the investigating police inspector (Gilles Lellouche) – a distant forerunner of Clouseau – proves useless in tracking. It instead requires the pluck and ingenuity of a young woman, Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin), just returned from a daredevil escapade in Egypt and seeking the nutty old scientist (Jacky Nercessian) who coaxed out the dinosaur in the first place. And thus, hilarity ensues...
Well, not exactly hilarity – but a sufficiency of spills and thrills to keep the mood buoyant, and it's always a pleasure to look at. Hugues Tissandier's production design animates the public and private spaces quite wonderfully, be it a cluttered apartment of explorer's trophies, a tennis court for un-genteel ladies or the antiquities room of a museum. There's even a good joke about the pyramid in the forecourt of the Louvre.
It would not be nearly so enjoyable, however, without this heroine, at once insouciant and passionate, better-looking than Indy and better-dressed than Lara Croft. She's played with just the right level of pertness by newcomer Bourgoin, outmatching both the clottish authorities at home and the dastardly rival archaeologist Dieuleveult (an unrecognisable Mathieu Amalric) in Egypt. It isn't the kind of story where you worry that the damsel is actually in danger, because there's always an outlandish effect – Patmosis, the Francophone mummy? – to spring her out of a tight spot. But in a market that traditionally favours the male half, Mademoiselle Blanc-Sec proves that, like the wine, she's got bottle.