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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

2017-07-21 07:34
 

What it's about:

Valerian and Laureline are special operatives for the government of the human territories that is charged with maintaining order throughout the universe. Valerian has more in mind than a professional relationship with his partner, blatantly chasing after her with propositions of romance. Under directive from their commander, Valerian and Laureline embark on a mission to the breathtaking intergalactic city of Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis comprised of thousands of different species from all four corners of the universe. Alpha’s seventeen million inhabitants have converged over time—uniting their talents, technology and resources for the betterment of all. Now, unfortunately, not everyone on Alpha shares in these same objectives. Unseen forces are at work placing the human race in great danger.

What we thought:

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a strange cinematic beast. Though it might feel initially that it’s a copy of Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s good to remember that this movie is based on the original comic series that has inspired sci-fi cinema since the sixties.

Director and writer Luc Besson has wanted to create this movie for most of his life, but felt limited by the technology that was available until James Cameron’s Avatar opened up the doors for big cinematic worlds and universes. In terms of style it’s a spiritual sequel to Besson’s cult classic The Fifth Element and many Easter eggs are scattered throughout, but it surpasses the scope of that world into something that can only be described as magical. 

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are sent on a mission to retrieve an item stolen from their agency. As they head back to their headquarters on Alpha they discover that an unknown menace threatens the city of a thousand planets. 

Valerian is the kind of movie that just blows your mind with its insane visuals and alien characters from the get-go.

The interdimensional marketplace was one of the most original concepts I’ve seen in sci-fi film and amazes by its sheer size. Another amazing scene that is little more low-key but still astounding is Rihanna’s dance sequence, where she’s constantly shapeshifting into different outfits. Her character was a delightful highlight in the movie and the singer pulled off not only the dance moves but also surprisingly the acting as well.

Alpha, a space station that hosts species from over a thousand planets, is first introduced through a great montage of human space history and becomes a very real future that might hold for humanity in the distant future. The movie had no qualms showing the audience all the different zones and creatures that inhabit it, especially with a chase scene that goes through all the sectors, and though it was more gratuitous rather than vital to the plot, the audience remains delighted in this showcase.  Throughout the movie, character and costume design, the incredible CGI and the general universe building is enough to hide Valerian’s many flaws in terms of story, script and bland leads.

One should appreciate the fact that Besson made this movie through his own company, which meant there was little studio meddling in the movie’s creative processes. However, that does not inherently mean the director always knows what’s best. No one can dispute Besson has an incredible vision for story and style, but there is much to be desired for his scriptwriting.

Valerian is filled with cheap and corny dialogue that feels misplaced in what should be an insane space opera, and one can argue that his French is not being translated well into English, but in future just please find someone else to write the dialogue. Despite having a beautiful score, Valerian was also victim to some bizarre sound design where cartoonish ‘boing’ sound effects were used throughout and became unfortunately very obvious after a while. Luckily all these flaws were well-hidden amongst the amazing parts of the movie, but when comparing it to Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek and Star Wars, its story can’t really hold up to the scrutiny. 

Besson’s hallmark film The Fifth Element was also held aloft by the amazing bond between Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich and their chemistry seeped into hearts of the audience for decades. DeHaan and Delevingne could not capture that same electricity and gave the audience quite a lukewarm romance. I believe Besson should either have gone with complete unknowns (or maybe even some English-speaking French actors) or should have gone the opposite direction to full Hollywood with super star power.

The in-between that DeHaan and Delevingne inhabit just didn’t quite cut it, and their youth also worked against them as they looked more like they should still be in some agent academy rather than working on high-risk missions. Their best performances were when they weren’t in the same scenes, and I applaud Besson for making sure Laureline sticks to the comics as more than some romantic sidekick but an active independent agent in the story. She had a good chunk of her own screen time in search of a missing Valerian, and even berates Valerian when he tells her to get backup. I don’t deny there were some hilarious moments between the two, and their romance could be enjoyed on a superficial level, but unfortunately not enough to make the pair the great romance they should have been.

Though Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets might sound like a weak movie, it still deserves its four-star-rating just because of the sheer volume and awe of the universe that Besson presents to us. I sincerely hope they do well enough at the box office for a second one, for a second chance at fixing the script problems and perhaps by putting the two leads through a Notebook-style romantic boot camp. It has so much potential for a visceral sci-fi franchise that isn’t bogged down by studio interference and restraints, but Besson first needs to acknowledge his own flaws and take steps to get in support, and hopefully next time we may have something more concrete that can cement Valerian as a deserved cornerstone of sci-fi cinema.



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