In a year full of commercially successful & critically acclaimed franchises either getting sequels or reboots, this Summer’s glimmer of hope in the form of a new IP sadly fizzles out on impact.
STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE
Valerian & The City of 1,000 Planets is an ambitious property to bring to the big screen. Based on the French comic series, Valerian & Laureline, the film is empty yet gorgeous, suffering from poor editing, tepid acting, and no real direction. If there’s one feather in the hat to be had, it’s that this is no small feat for an independent film, producing the most expensive budget of any indie movie to date.
The nice part is that Valerian doesn’t feel like an indie film. It’s got action, beautiful CG (for the most part), and even some big name stars to go along with it. The story is set in the 28th century, near the space station Alpha, which hosts hundreds of thousands of different species living in harmony. With so many futuristic movies and games taking on the pessimistic outlook of an apocalyptic wasteland, Valerian is a fresh change of pace. To set the stage, early in the film, the titular character has a dream/vision of a rather primitive species. This species possesses a rare animal that duplicates precious resources. As falling debris wakes Valerian up from this dream, he & Laureline are given a mission to retrieve one of these animals. This leads to larger discoveries of the greater plot, along with a broader scope of what is happening in the galaxy. In addition, smaller storylines play out that include romantic relationships (or attempts at them), conspiracy theories, and other science fiction tropes.
Valerian is, in some ways, a celebration of decades of past science fiction properties. You’ll see planets, environments, weapons, and robots inspired from Star Wars, Mass Effect, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and of course, The Fifth Element. Director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Lucy) nailed certain elements (no pun intended) of Valerian, but at the expense of others.
From a visual and sound standpoint, Valerian is generally very good, if not great. The aspect of this that stands out the most is the collection and assortment of alien life. Some aliens are very detailed and blend very well into their respective scenes, while the occasional poorly designed alien looks all too animated. Whether that is more of a design issue or an execution problem, the issue remains. One character in particular is Rihanna’s Bubbles, who looks like she was cut and paste right out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Yeah, I said Rhianna. You heard me right.
That’s a pretty good segue into the film’s cast, which is largely underwhelming and even poor at times. The problem is that I didn’t care about anyone on screen, which gave me no reason to root for them or even relate to them. Dane DeHaan plays Valerian, and it’s clear that the character was meant to grow from the beginning of the film. Valerian, special agent of the Human Police Force, is a creepy, emotionless playboy. How & why his “playlist” was so extensive is completely beyond me (you’ll understand if & when you see the movie). The plot tries to paint Valerian not just as a talented agent, but as a person that finds deep personal growth from the film’s onset to the final minutes of the screenplay. Rather than showing us why he is growing and why he is changing, the film tries to force feed it to us in the way of telling us that it’s happening, which is a recipe for disaster. Every time DeHaan opened his mouth, I couldn’t help but think “this is the poor man’s Harry Obsorn, I’m so glad The Amazing Spider-Man series is over!” His voice shows very little to no inflection, giving us a rather plastic, monotone performance.
Speaking of monotone, the film’s other star in Cara Delevingne makes it work for her as Valerian’s partner, Laureline. Cara’s on-screen performances typically don’t vary much role-to-role, but her stone-faced, emotion-concealing persona worked well here. Anytime she was anywhere near being in the camera’s view, I was, at the very least, intrigued. She is the lone bright spot in the cast full of mediocrity. I’m not sure if it’s so much the cast, but rather the direction that makes the difference in this case. Rihanna’s character, Bubbles, is surprisingly deeper than anticipated, but it’s not enough to keep the story running in the right direction and provides for an odd motivation for another character.
The film’s main plot is certainly not bad, but I wouldn’t call it the most interesting story in the world. I hate to criticize someone’s editing, especially when it’s a property that they worked on for a number of years (but were paid to do it, still). Perhaps the editing saved bits and pieces of this thing that we’ll never know of, but it didn’t mesh well and actually produced more questions than answers in certain sequences. There’s a lot of Avatar influence here, for better or worse. In fact, I could describe both movies in the same way: style over substance.
There were 2, perhaps 3 very good action sequences that made me feel justified for going to see the movie. Pacing was a major issue, along with the aforementioned editing. However, these specific sequences were exciting and well produced. If only there was more of it, because the thing that Valerian needed most was a lighter tone, a la Guardians of the Galaxy, which blends action, character development, & balanced tones as good as any movie.
Valerian & The City of 1,000 Planets isn’t a bad movie per se, it just wasn’t good. The potential was certainly there for this to launch a new franchise, but sadly the pieces just didn’t fit together as intended. Still, I’m glad that the film exists and that it’s there for movie goers to see. It feels good to have fresh blood in a year full of more Marvel, DC, & Sci-Fi sequels. I just wish it had been executed properly.
+ Visuals are overall impressive, despite the few that already seem outdated in 2017.
+ Cara Delevingne as Laureline.
+ Though they’re few & far between, the action sequences were stellar.
+ Certain alien and robot design.
– This film had 2 real intros. The second was drawn out way too long.
– DeHaan’s performance is bland, cheesy, and awkward.
– Certain alien design.
– Rihanna’s awkwardly long introduction.
– Zero chemistry between DeHaan and Delevingne.
– Story is underwhelming, thought still good, yet ends in a completely unsatisfying way and doesn’t advance the universe any further from where we started.
Josiah LeRoy is one of The Geekiverse’s big science fiction fans. He was optimistically pessimistic in his Valerian review, but that’s okay.
Be sure to keep up with The Geekiverse across social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram. Watch The Geekiverse on YouTube and listen to The Geekiverse podcasts on Soundcloud or iTunes today!