Well this looks like a visual spectacle. Sci-fi is a wonderful way to guarantee my ass in a seat, but heavy CGI epics like this looks like… well, let’s just say the taste of JUPITER ASCENDING (2015) hasn’t completely washed out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty easy to please. I love CGI and this film looks gorgeous, but it runs a dangerous gamble of making the effects the star, rather than the actors and story. Won’t matter much to me so long as it’s fun and exciting.
Well, a little history before I get to my initial impressions to set some records straight before, God forbid, another overly sanctimonious nerd gets mad at me. As some of you may know, I’m a casual gamer, and one of my favorite video game franchises is BioWare’s Mass Effect games. Been a fan of them since its initial release in 2008 on the Xbox 360. So when this movie was announced, my first thought was that this movie was ripping off Mass Effect because the armor design for the main characters was incredibly similar to Mass Effect’s armor design for its main character. Turns out, it’s the other way around. This movie is actually based on a French comic book series called Valérian and Laureline, originally published in 1967 and ran for several decades. To the best of my knowledge, they have stopped getting made, but it’s pretty inconsistent when they stopped. Some time in the 2010s, I think. The comic company that made the comics went bankrupt. In any case, these comics have been influential in many sci-fi films, including Star Wars and Luc Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997), and by extension, heavily influenced Mass Effect. I had it backwards. So now anyone who thought the same as me, now you know too. Although, question mark, why did the filmmakers change the title to just “Valerian” instead of “Valerian and Loreline”? I understand it would have made the title longer, but long titles aren’t new to movie-goers. LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003), DOCTOR STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)? Just saying, throwing in “and Loreline” wouldn’t throw audiences off too much.
So what’s this story about? Actually, the story presented in the trailer is pretty vague. It just seems like it’s about a couple of space-faring… mercenaries? They go around a giant city with a thousand different cultures that’s about to be threatened by a mysterious dark force. I don’t know, but it looks pretty to look at.
Well, here’s the cast. The starring duo are Dane Dehaan (THE CURE FOR WELLNESS , THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 , and CHRONICLE ) and Cara Delevingne (SUICIDE SQUAD , PAPER TOWNS , and ANNA KARENINA ). In support, we have Clive Owen (KILLER ELITE , SHOOT ‘EM UP , and CHILDREN OF MEN ), Rihanna (HOME , THIS IS THE END , and BATTLESHIP ), Ethan Hawke (MAUDIE , THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN , BOYHOOD ), Rutger Hauer (THE RITE , HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN , and BATMAN BEGINS ), and director-going-actor this time around, Louis Leterrier (CLASH OF THE TITANS ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing, we have famed French filmmaker Luc Besson, known for LUCY (2015), THE FIFTH ELEMENT, and LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994). Composing the score is Alexandre Desplat, known for THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (2016), THE DANISH GIRL (2015), THE QUEEN (2006), and the upcoming Guillermo del Toro flick, THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Thierry Arbogast, known for LUCY, FEMME FATALE (2002), and THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC (1999).
Overall, this will certainly be a hit or miss. My guess, I’ll like it enough for it’s special effects and cinematography. Can’t speak for the story, so I should probably keep my expectations moderate on that front.
This is my honest opinion of: VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
Valerian (Dane Dehaan), a cocky and arrogant space soldier, and his partner, the more professional Loreline (Cara Delevingne), his romance interest, are sent on a mission to bring back an alien creature to be the last of its kind, which is being hunted by factions all across space.
As feared, it’s this year’s JUPITER ASCENDING. And I had such high hopes, man.
The first and foremost thing that I have to say… this movie is BORING!!! Holy shit is it boring! This movie is two hours and fifteen minutes long, but its plot never takes off until the final twenty minutes. But I’m jumping ahead of myself a bit. It starts off promising enough. Some gorgeous visuals, which is all that saves this movie, impressive CGI, and an ominous tone by the end of the sequence. In fact, there’s a really neat idea in the prologue where the human race has created this space station that houses all the many cultures of the planet. Then aliens come along and the station is constantly expanded as more aliens join in until the station is so big that it has voyage into deep space. I thought that was really cool, making the subtitle, “City of a Thousand Planets” make much more sense.
But then the first red flags crop up.
We’re introduced to our titular character, Valerian. He’s supposed to be the Han Solo of the movie. He’s arrogant, yet suave and charming with a hint of self-absorption. Except that’s not what he is. He’s arrogant, oh yeah, but he lacks any semblance of legit charm and he’s completely self-absorbed, making him a character that I just couldn’t care about. Like, at all. Throughout the film. I get what they were trying to do with him. He’s supposed to be a womanizer who decides that Loreline is going to be who he decides to commit to. Thing is, this is horribly told to us via clumsy exposition. From the beginning of his character’s introduction to the end of the movie, you would never guess that he was a skirt-chaser. So why is this detail so necessary? To narrate that he has commitment issues? That’s already demolished early on because he proposes to her and commits to his suggestion throughout the movie without ever being tempted to be with another woman. And Bubble (Rihanna) doesn’t count. He never truly has a character arch that even gets you to empathize with him. This is obviously no fault on Dehaan’s part. He’s a fine enough actor who gets all the emotions down to a tee, but the way his character is written… it would have been merciful if he died in this movie.
Then the “plot” gets underway and Valerian and Loreline, who are space soldiers of sorts, and have to retrieve something that their higher-ups want. Again, the visuals are breath-taking. We’re introduced to what looks like a hilariously empty desert, but then the extras are given some goofy goggles and then we see an enormous holographic marketplace city. The movie cleverly shows that even though the city is holographic in the point of view from the tourists, we’re shown that the city Alpha, the space station that I mentioned earlier, is the real location and the tourists are holograms on the station. It’s actually really damn cool how that set-up is. In fact, one of the better aspects of this movie is how creative the technology can be. You have these boxes that act like little worm holes where if you stick your hand in them, your hands appear in the real location where your holographic image is. It’s beyond awesome.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t last long as the tech soon dives into the realm of fantasy. What do I mean? There seems to be a piece of tech for any given situation in this movie and even the established tech gets utterly confusing. Remember the goggles that make you a hologram in the marketplace? There’s a chase scene with Valerian and he gets shot at with these sticky and heavy balls on his arms that are supposed to weigh him down. In order to escape, he slams the bunched up orbs on a… sewer manhole, I think and… falls several dozen stories down… as a holographic image where he’s grunting as he’s falling through floor after floor. Um… so many questions! First off, fine, he could be grunting because his arms are getting yanked as he’s falling, but how are his arms still attached?! For someone falling several stories at the velocity he’s going, you’d think his arms would get ripped off of their sockets before long. There’s another bit where a holographic goon has his guns out in the real location, ready to shoot someone. But there’s this vicious alien dog that somehow manages to tackle the man down despite that he’s a holographic image, even though it would make more sense for it to attack the man’s hands. Also, both Valerian and Loreline have this armor, right? It’s all over the advertising and trailers. There’s a bit where the armor is basically superpowered and Valerian can run through solid steel walls at double the speed of a normal human. Thing is, Loreline gets kidnapped later on and she’s locked in a wooden basket. Um… hello?! Super suit! Use it! Or is wood the supersuits weakness?! Freakin’ blow me!
There’s a lot of that in this movie too. Both characters find themselves in situations where they need each other’s help, but those situations are either anti-climactic, or unbelievably senseless. Like when Loreline get captured, her capture is a dim-witted alien that looks like it could put up a fight on par with a kitten. So why isn’t she just blazing through the guy and taking her payload to where it needs to go? If Valerian can single-handedly fight a legion of those things, Loreline should easily be able to fight against a fraction of those numbers. It’s total crap.
And like I said, the plot makes no sense. The two are supposed to be protecting this one-of-a-kind creature that makes valuable minerals and there’s a shit ton of people who want it, including their superiors. The problem is that neither character is on a journey to figure out who wants it for what reason, but rather just going from point A to point B just to either recover the creature from someone else’s clutches, or to keep it away from everyone. At no point does the story truly further itself along, which is where the “Jupiter Ascending” effect comes in: the effects and visuals are the stars, not the actors or the story, as previously mentioned.
So with all that being said, is there anything worth complimenting? Well, I’ve mentioned the visuals plenty of times, so that goes without saying. Also, Besson is a great director, so when an action sequence is happening, you do get to see the action as opposed to a Michael Bay film where there’s way too much shaky cam and you can’t make out what’s going on, so his vision is always appreciated. And as for the characters, Loreline is a much better written character as opposed to Valerian. She and him never truly hook up by the end of the movie. Their feelings are always addressed, even in inappropriate moments, but she’s at least grounded enough to tell him off when he’s not being professional and has a much better sense of right and wrong than Valerian does, making her much more likable. It’s just a shame that she’s relegated to being a dame in distress one too many times.
Overall, I can’t say this is a good movie. By any stretch. But there’s enough visuals for me to say that it is worth the time of day to ogle over, but that’s not enough to make a good story, which is the crux of any movie worth a damn. And because this movie is impossible to connect with, it’s ultimately boring, which is so disappointing for how interesting it looks. I may not recommend it for anyone expecting the next Star Wars, and I certainly don’t recommend it at the theaters. It might be worth a rental though. Just be ready to kill off two hours and fifteen minutes out of your day. So viewer beware.
My honest rating for VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS: a weak 3/5