The man (Pierre Jolivet) lives alone in a large apartment block in the middle of a vast desert, although he is not the only person in the vicinity. Nevertheless, he prefers to spend is days on his own, investigating the surrounding ruins and taking his pick of whatever he can salvage from the abandoned vehicles and machinery, all to go towards building his aeroplane. He needs this to escape his existence here, as the gang who lives nearby but have not cottoned onto him yet are growing ever more curious. He sees only one way out: kill their leader, The Captain (Fritz Wepper)...
Science fiction in the eighties really embraced the concept of post-apoclyptic thrillers, probably because anyone with access to a stretch of wasteground or a handy desert could stage one there without the cost of building expensive sets. Not everyone was making a rip-off of Mad Max 2, however, as Luc Besson made his debut with a more thoughtful effort in this vein that nonetheless did not skimp on action, it simply incorporated it into a tale that was more concerned with seeing its hero survive this futuristic hellhole he had found himself living in.
We never find out what has happened to land the world in this predicament, where there is hardly anyone left alive and those that are cannot speak to each other because - well, we never find that out either. This does mean that the film is an entirely dialogue-free experience, a good idea for international sales to countries where French is not their first language, but something of an affectation as it works itself into the plot. It does offer the kind of novelty that you don't get with many movies in this genre, and did mark out its writer-director as someone with a fertile imagination, a little bit different from his European contemporaries who were arising in this decade.
Jolivet contributed to the script as well, going on to be a director in his own right, but here you get the impression this is Besson's vision being adhered to, as the imagery is one of stark black and white devastation, unrelenting and bleak. Yet Le Dernier Combat never feels too depressing to contemplate finishing, as you are intrigued to see how this little chap will get through his hardships to prevail against an unfriendly environment. Not to mention an unfriendly group of other characters as he escapes from the gang in his flying machine and travels across the desert until he reaches a city, where he effectively crashlands.
This is where the two other main characters live, and like our hero they are not wholly admirable in personality: the Doctor (Jean Bouise) locked away by his own hand in a hospital, and the Brute (Jean Reno), a resourceful thug looking to find a way in but always foiled in semi-comical scenes. Mind you, there's nothing funny about the way he beats up the hero, leading his battered body to be taken into the hospital by the Doctor and patched up. They now have a companion, a rare thing in this landscape, and if the medical man represents the civilisation humanity has left behind, the pilot shows the way to survive its trials though his ingenuity - and maybe a spot of good luck, as well. All he needs now is a woman, but there don't appear to be any left... This is a curio, and probably has more in common with those exploitation flicks about warriors of the wasteland than it would care to admit, but is consistently compelling for all that. Music by Eric Serra.