Thursday, 3 August 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - Movie Review

Valérian and Laureline has been a big influence on the science-fiction genre even if not many people are too aware of it. A French comic series published from 1967 all the way up to 2010, the adventures of space agent Valerian and his spunky sidekick Laureline has been stated as an influence on many big sci-fi films from Star Wars to The Fifth Element. The latter of course was directed by a certain Luc Besson who has been a lifelong fan of the comic book series (using the design of Laureline as an influence for Milla Jovovich’s character Leeloo, hence why in this film Laureline doesn't have her red hair). It took a while to create as a result of Besson waiting for the technology to get to the point that a Valerian film could be feasibly good and at long last it’s come out – to absolute critical and box office apathy, with the film bombing in the United States. Clearly the film’s influences overtook the film and nobody was interested in a film that looked derivative of previous sci-fi hits and bared somewhat of a resemblance in style to the infamous Jupiter Ascending…

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follows the titular space agent (Dane DeHaan), a cocky but brilliant major who alongside his partner Laureline (Cara Delevigne) serves on the police force for Alpha 5, a grand space station that’s inhabited by creatures of many different species with many different skills. When a species kidnaps their Commander (Clive Owen) and puts the fate of Alpha 5 at risk Valerian and Laureline must set off in order to save their world whilst also discovering new things about these strange creatures along the way.

One thing that cannot be denied about Valerian is the fact that it looks extremely good; Besson held off making this film until the technology was right and his decision paid off as the visual side of the film is absolutely astounding – not too shocking given the fact that it’s the most expensive movie to be produced in France. The design of Alpha 5 looks like a total haven as imagination is poured into every section of the space station, whilst the other planets visited by the characters all are rather inventive and extremely visually eye popping. It is fairly trippy at times with its abundance of bright colours but never relinquishes on the beauty. Some design choices are rather derivative; the main vehicle used by Valerian and Laureline couldn’t be any more of a rip-off of the Millennium Falcon and there are environments that do sometimes seem like the cast aways of Star Wars and Avatar among other. For what it is though the film looks gorgeous. Too bad then that these exquisite visual effects are there to mask how poor the rest of the film is.

The plot is an utter shambles – the synopsis I wrote in the second paragraph had to be pieced together from official descriptions from other sites as I had very little idea of what was actually going on; the plans of the primary antagonist, who is so obviously signposted as the villain, make little sense, come out of nowhere and have large gaps in logic that you wonder how he was able to set it in motion. The film also suffers from being very baggy, especially near the beginning where it feels as though it takes an eternity to get going (with a pointless montage of the construction of Alpha 5 being the most prominent scene of bloat since it causes the movie to kick off on such a slow note) and the end where you feel that the problem has been solved but the action just keeps on going on. The dialogue is quite atrocious, with unnatural exposition dumps and bad forced banter between the two leads all the way throughout. But that banter could have maybe worked if better actors played the lead roles and that’s what really brings down Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Dane DeHaan has proven himself to be a more than capable actor in films like Chronicle but as the suave and Han Solo-esque lead he feels like a complete miscast, often being too feeble and too obnoxious to feel believable as a dashing space rogue. Cara Delevingne meanwhile has proven herself to be a very poor actress (need I bring up Enchantress in Suicide Squad?) and throughout the film she’s incredibly unemotional and therefore a complete charisma vacuum to watch on screen. The duo have very little chemistry and it feels as though the two characters were forced together, not given a natural partnership. The supporting cast is mainly pretty forgettable; Clive Owen does seem to be having some fun chewing the scenery in places and Rihanna is surprisingly OK in a brief time as what amounts to a space prostitute but they hardly stick out from the bland pack.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a critical example of a film that’s all style but no substance, a movie that looks incredibly pretty but can’t make up for all the flaws in its writing and characters. The fantastic visuals and cinematography can only stand up for so long before you notice the confused plot, the dreadful dialogue and the fact that the leads have no charisma or chemistry with each other whatsoever. A film that feels like a mishmash of other sci-fi films such as Star Wars and Avatar, it’s clear that Besson was aiming for this film to become a smash like Guardians of the Galaxy but instead he has his own Jupiter Ascending

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – written and directed by Luc Besson, produced by Besson and Virginie Besson-Silla, starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu and Rutger Hauer. A EuropaCorp/Fundamental Films production, a Lionsgate film

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