Valerian: The City of a Thousand Planets

IMDB 6.8 – Rotten Tomatoes 51% – Metacritic 51 – Written by Pierre Christin and Jean- Claude Mezieres, Directed by Luc Besson.

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke.

 

We have a new comic book intellectual property making its debut on the big screen folks, a new universe to explore, a new cinematic universe to expand (another one) and a new sci-fi to marvel at. Actually the pun is intended there because this one doesn’t come from Marvel, although it no doubt owes its investment and its hype to the outrageous success of Guardians of the Galaxy. Set hundreds of years in the future, the story follows the missions of Major Valerian (DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne), two talented special operatives working for the Human Government present on a massive multi-species space station composed of millions of inhabitants from thousands of species from all over the galaxy. Alpha, as the title of the movies suggests, is the city of a thousand planets. An unknown enemy threatens the security of this station and Valerian and Laureline investigate in non-stop roulette wheel of outlandish chaos and exotic oddity that will leave you puzzled but entertained. Based on the comic book series “Valerian and Laureline” by French writers Christin and Mezieres.

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In a performance context, it’s fair to say that nobody was amazing, and the movie probably suffers from the calibre of performer we have come to expect lately of big budget comic book movies. Dane DeHaan, while serviceable seems to have taken a step back from his far more mature performance in “A Cure for Wellness”, his other most recent outing on the big screen. He was portraying something of a psychopath in that movies which perhaps suited him better than the warmth and emotion he was asked to try and convey in some parts of this movie because he was less than convincing. Relative newcomer to the big screen, Cara Delevingne surprisingly outperformed her co-star in a, surprising only given her background in modelling. She wasn’t terrific but offered the movie a big more personality than DeHaan, doing enough to lend irony to the fact of her marginalisation as the female lead in the title for this movie.

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For the supporting cast, we have Clive Owen playing the villain and remind us all why he isn’t in movies anymore, we have Rihanna who like Delevingne obviously doesn’t come from a background in acting and yet exceeded expectations with her quirky, humorous and endearing performance that offered some small depth to the film; and Ethan Hawke, who was strong in a very limited role, underutilised and should definitely have been given Owen’s role in this movie.

The movie’s key technical feature is obviously its extensive use of visual effects, which are basically present throughout the entire movie. Sometimes this is a dangerous gambit, as constant interaction between real and CGI characters often looks terrible and takes the viewer out of the movie, and while there was some degree of this with Valerian, I have to say there were some stunning CG scenes on offer here. The best of these come in the form of the astonishing scenes of the beaches of the planet Mul and its inhabitants, a sequence of stunning, rich colour that is incredibly beautiful. The key to the success here being that there are no real life images spliced into the CG, allowing this to come off looking like the next generation of Pixar. If animated films and video games look have as good as this in the coming years, they’r going to look pretty fucking good. James Cameron will get a boner when he sees this.

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With the focus seemingly on the visual experience of the movie, the writing has left a lot to be desired. While there is an amusing and quirky “Fifth Element” style to the characters, the key scenes that set out to elicit any kind of emotion from the audience appear like the kind you see in amateur theatre productions. Partly because of the talent of the performers; but partly because they come out of nowhere, without an effective build up and with no continuity with the rest of the movie. There is also a distinct lack of structure in the storytelling that makes it seem like a compilation of crazy and entertaining actions scenes shot for the sheer fun of it before they realised half way through that they are supposed to be telling a story. If Guardians of the Galaxy is the direct comparison, then this movie has every bit as much of the bizarre and abstract action but with none of the coherence in narrative.

Now don’t get me wrong, expectations will be everything if you choose to go and see this movie and it is a fun hang, but consider it as a popcorn flick to appreciate its entertainment value. I enjoyed this film but it doesn’t lend itself at all to film analysis, which would explain the poor metacritic score. If you liked Guardians and you want to be entertained then you could do far worse than Valerian. 3 Stars from me, plenty of cool stuff to see for any comic or sci fi fan, and possibly a shout here for a visual effects or hair and make-up nomination. Sometimes the key to your enjoyment of a movie, is who you see it with 🙂

 

David Angelini

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