Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a cinematic masterpiece – said absolutely nobody after walking out of this film.
I wanted to like this film. I really did. Despite the swath of unfavourable reviews and a trailer that promised dialogue clunkier than square wheels, I went in with my head held high. I was nothing short of determined to like this film. But i just couldn’t do it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are elements of this film that are decidedly excellent. It’s just not enough to pull this film from the corners it writes itself into.
It’s with this film that director Luc Besson gets to fully realise his unrivalled genius as a world builder. What he started with Fifth Element, he finishes with Valerian. This beautiful, quirky, confetti-coloured (yet somehow believable) universe shines in it’s detail and originality. It’s one of those distinctly visionary films you could watch ten times and still pick out something new. Trouble is, I don’t want to watch it ten times.
Inhabitants of this universe, the two hundred appearing species are diverse and rarely overlap. Besson penned a six hundred page document on them to assist actors. Some translate better on screen then others, and most of them inexplicably have humanoid hands, but the quality is consistent enough that the few that suffer slip by relatively unnoticed.
The Art Department deserved a damn Oscar. Unfortunately, they’ll never see one because their efforts have been utterly betrayed by scripting, characterisation and storyline.
The story has two central characters, Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne). Regrettably, the principle actors have the on-screen chemistry of two wet fish slapping together. They’re shoved into a relationship so contrived it harkens back to that time Peter Jackson pushed a cross-species relationship into The Hobbit (a kids story Jackson, you monster). The actors here might be the same species, but they’re barely on the same planet.
Dane Dehaan takes up the action hero mantle, playing a character that is often and repeatedly touted as rougishly charming and handsome. Instead, he is a 31 year old trapped in the haircut of a 12 year old. He completely lacks he presence and personality to make Valerian a likeable character.
Surprisingly, it is Delevingne that delivers probably the best performance of the film, especially considering what little she has to work with. She’s a little over the top at times, but it works. She has secured her place as one of the best things about this film. Which is not something I ever thought Id say about her.
Besson has a long history of eliciting excellent performances out of relatively inexperienced female actors(Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita and Natalie Portman in Leon: the Professional), and he does not disappoint with this one.
Other supporting actors in this film (the likes of Ethan Hawke, Rihanna and Clive Owen), offer little in the realm of quality to this film. But it’s hard to hold them responsible. Their characters are flimsy cardboard cutouts, applied and discarded faster then used tissues. Unoriginal and lifeless bad guys. Good guys who are so good their goodness is blinding. Central characters who flip-flop on pretty important personality traits. The CGI aliens have more substance then their human counterparts.
Having been adapted from the French cult comic series ‘Valerian and Laureline’ (a far less bloated title) by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, you’d have thought they’d had a wealth of stories to pick from. This is the series touted as the inspiration for more then a handful of the best Sci-fi’s ever made, how did this happen?
Sure, they kick things off with a pretty stellar opening scene, but it unravels pretty quickly after. The story plods predictably through it’s first and second act, with no faith in it’s audience to figure out even the most basic stuff on their own. When it reaches it’s final act, it panics, grasping blindly for some emotionality and sympathy in a world with no straws. But the stakes don’t feel real, and the threat is not really that threatening. Really, this story has the depth and mystery of a puddle after a light rain.
Overall, it feels like an incredible odyssey of a film that Besson simply couldn’t manage to get a proper hold of. The story slips through his fingers, sacrificed at the alter of visual spectacle. Besson has helmed a pretty mixed bag of films, and here again proves his unpredictability. Its a real shame too. With a decent story and better characters, this movie might have been the instant classic it was envisioned to be.
Ill still watch it again, but for me, this film is relegated to the pool of source material for computer wallpapers. Better Luc next time.
For other thoughts on the film, check out Elli’s review HERE.