Movie Review – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

valerian_poster

Released July 21, 2017
Rated PG-13 (Sci-Fi Violence, Action, Suggestive Material, Brief Language)
2 hr. 17 min.
Directed, Written, and Produced by Luc Besson (Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element)
Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast (La Femme Nikita, Lucy)
Music by Alexandre Desplat (The King’s Speech, Argo)
Edited by Julien Rey (The Lady, The Family)
Also Produced by Virginie Besson-Silla (Revolver, From Paris with Love)
Starring Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines), Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad), Clive Owen (The Bourne Identity, Children of Men), Rihanna (Battleship, Home), Ethan Hawke (Gattaca, Training Day), Herbie Hancock (‘Round Midnight, Hitters), Kris Wu (The Mermaid, xXx: Return of Xander Cage), Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, Batman Begins), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, 10 Cloverfield Lane), and Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets comes out tomorrow, November 7th, on Amazon Video and iTunes, and November 21st on DVD and Blu-Ray. I’m here to tell you that you should check it out immediately, despite the overwhelmingly negative things you’ve probably heard about this unusually entertaining, quirky, and creative sci-fi flick.

Last year, I saw Doctor Strange in theaters, and I really liked that movie, despite its generic plot, because it presented us, the audience, with visuals that we had never seen before up on the big screen. I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this summer with a good friend of mine, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it, partly because almost every visual element in the movie was something that we had never seen before, even though the movie does have a few issues.

When I consider Valerian‘s sheer imagination in its world-building, designs, colors, and overall implementation of special effects, I must say that Besson has crafted something weird and wonderful here, something amazingly unique and extremely original, something breathtakingly gorgeous and fantastically marvelous. There were moments in the film when I couldn’t even believe my eyes. It’s an experience, for sure. See it on the biggest screen possible at the highest resolution you can.

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Image via benmaurodesign.com

Valerian is based on a French sci-fi action-adventure comic series titled Valérian and Laureline, which was also a huge influence on George Lucas for Star Wars. I’ve not really read much of Valérian and Laureline, but what I’ve seen looks fun and strange. However, from what I can tell, Besson only used those comics as an inspiration and touching point for this movie. In fact, The City of a Thousand Planets is just as unique as Besson’s 1997 cult favorite, The Fifth Element.

It’s a little difficult to describe this movie, but I will say this: it’s much like a mixture of Star Wars, Star Trek (old and new movies), Avatar, John Carter (another underrated sci-fi/fantasy adventure), The Matrix, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Fifth Element. There’s nothing ripped off from those flicks, mind you, but they are reasonable reference points for Valerian‘s feel. Like those movies, Valerian‘s worlds are more than fully realized. Besson and company fill A Thousand Planets with too many details to catch in one viewing, and that dedication immerses us deep into this bizarre universe.

The movie starts off strong with some fantastic sci-fi ideas, a visual explanation of the movie’s world – its universe – and how it came to be, and an overall preparation for what’s to come. The introduction and first act are fantastic; I was one-hundred percent on board. There’s also a feeling of pure enjoyment that runs throughout the film.

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Image via technobuffalo

However, I have to be honest with you, things do get a little messy. The story becomes jumbled and predictable and character setups don’t all pay off. On top of that, though Delevingne does a fine job as Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne’s smoldering and snarky performance here is, by far, her best yet), DeHaan is poorly miscast as Major Valerian. I never bought him as a veteran agent who wants to retire from his life of kicking ass, taking names, and bedding babes, DeHaan looking more like a young David Bowie than a space-age James Bond. DeHaan can act, don’t get me wrong, and he does here, but he just couldn’t sell what Besson handed him. And, though Delevingne and DeHaan have decent chemistry, especially since they appear to be having a grand time together, I didn’t feel the intended romantic tension. Apparently, the parts of Valerian and Laureline were originally meant for Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. That would have been perfect. What’s worse, the two characters occasionally contradict traits we’ve learned about previously, causing some major inconsistencies.

Also, Besson subjects us to dreadful and stiff dialogue chock full of unnecessary exposition. I’m talking Star Wars prequels levels of awkwardness, though the characters here infuse more emotion into the bad dialogue than Lucas’ prequel actors ever did. And, of course, there’s a super-duper evil, corny, ’90s style villain in Clive Owen, who doesn’t delight in the role like he should. In addition, the movie’s overwrought theme of “love can save the universe” is so heavy-handed I felt like Besson’s message hammer was bashing my head in. In interviews, Besson shows that he thinks he was subtle and clever with this theme, but he was not in the least bit. The score is beautiful, though, and the cinematography is good.

Despite my negatives, I think this movie deserved to make more money than it did for its dedicated world building and its fast-moving, lively, action-adventure plot, which is definitely exciting, if unevenly paced. After all, Avatar had a hodge-podge plot, too, and a bland actor in its lead, but it made boatloads! Still, the difference between Avatar and Valerian is accessibility. In my opinion, the worlds here are just as cool as anything in Avatar, but A Thousand Planets is just so freaking zany I think many people are turned off. Oh, well. I’m sure, like Fifth Element, this will eventually find a cult following of fans who rave about it. I might be one of them.

I’m going to give Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets a 70%.

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Image via Screen Rant

It’s bonkers, totally out of left field, and the singular vision of an imaginative guy passionate about his vision. Is it flawless? No. But it is awesome, even if in a flawed way. Valerian is a heckuva good time, and it’s a shame so many people missed it. Don’t miss it now.

Not that I’m guaranteeing your enjoyment. I’m not. It’s gleefully silly and campy. Sometimes accidentally so. Yet in an era of mostly OK big budget wannabe blockbusters, assembled on a line, designed by a board of producers, focus group consulted until they appeal to the largest group of people possible, and formulated to upset or turn off the fewest people possible, something like this feels fresh, wild even.

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