Seen 13th August
For years now, Luc Besson has been known for his visual aesthetic. The man knows how to create a world and breathe life into it, his film The Fifth Element is proof that he knows how to paint a glorious picture with his camera… Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is proof that he needs to work more on his stories and casting because he’s losing his touch.
Set in the far off future, Valerian follows the title character (Played by Dane DeHaan) and his second in command Sergeant Laureline (Played by Cara Delevingne) in their quest to save their Commander who has just been kidnapped. On the way they meet many random aliens, go through random worlds of various sorts and in general blow things up. Also, there may be a vast government conspiracy to hide a mass genocide because even in the distant future we can’t resist a little genocide. Yes, what you read is basically the plot of this and every sci-fi movie of note. This is because the movie is based on a comic book called Valerian and Laureline which has been around since 67 and its influences can be found in films like Star Wars, Fifth Element and even Conan the Barbarian to name a few.
On a positive note, the movie is gorgeous to look at. There may be a ton of CG but it’s well done and all of it feels like it belongs in the same world as the main actors, even if the main actors don’t appear to be interacting with the CG world (But we’ll get to that later). Every shot is gorgeous and brimming with detail, there’s definitely an amazing visual sensibility going on in this movie, which is good because there’s nothing else.
To go straight to the negatives, Everyone in this film is a one note character. The two leads? Snarky snarkersons from the planet snark who snark all day while snarking their snarks off. Every line might as well be followed by someone going “Oooh she di’nt”, that’s how snarky they are. Oh, also they’re romantically linked even though they have the chemistry of a plank of wood and a pile of sand. I would say that I don’t believe they’d ever even met before this movie, except they have because they both appeared as leads in the film Tulip Fever (A film I never saw, and I’m guessing you didn’t either) so I’m afraid I can’t think of a valid excuse for such forced chemistry.
The actors are there to serve the visuals, nothing more. They’re warm bodies that can be put in this world and somehow fit. The film’s most interesting moments are the first few minutes where there are no humans on screen and it’s just a pure visual spectacle, that’s when this film works but once we’re talking about how Valerian is such a womaniser but he really want’s to settle down with Laureline (Which is literally how we’re introduced to them, it’s the first discussion they have on screen when we meet them) then suddenly everything must revolve around their love and oh god make it stop.
Someone in Hollywood needs to start a class on how to interact with characters that aren’t there. There are multiple times when the main cast are looking or holding a CGI animal or alien and I don’t believe they’re even touching it. Bob Hoskins was able to convince me in the 80’s that he was strangling a cartoon rabbit, how come modern actors can’t convince me that they’re looking in the general direction of a realistic looking alien.
The only person in this film with some actual interesting personality is, hilariously, Rihanna who will be playing our Diva crossed with Ruby Rhod. She’s fun, but she’s also barely on screen since most of the film she’s inhabiting another form. She get’s one dance scene, is an alien and then a dramatic escape and she’s the best thing in this movie, other than the stunning visuals.
There is an old adage in film. “Show, don’t tell”. Valerian has decided to update that and make it into “Show, then tell while showing again because everyone needs to be super sure that they understand what we’re talking about”. That absolutely amazing opening scene with no humans I talked about? That scene is repeated later on in the film except now with people blabbering on about what’s going on. There’s a scene where a mysterious figure is and I knew who it was… and I knew there’d be a dramatic reveal 5 minutes later and sure enough, I was right because it was obvious and bad.
In general, the film is a visual marvel, possibly the most visually stunning film I’ve seen in a while. It suffers from a lack of an interesting story, a lack of interesting character, a lack of actors willing to push the material to the limits and just a lack of care. It’s by no means bad, the visuals do make up for a lot, but it’s nowhere near Lub Besson’s standards and it’s not a film that should’ve cost 200 million to make (Good luck getting that money back Luc, you’re being beaten at the box office by the goddamn Emoji movie)