Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets FILM REVIEW
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
Director: Luc Besson
Screenplay: Luc Besson
Based on the comic book by Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne. Clive Owen, Rianna, Herbie Hancock, Ethan Hawke, Sam Spruell, Rutger Hauer
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language
Running Time: 2 hour 13 minutes
** out of *****
Photo: STX Entertainment
In Luc Besson's new film, Sergeant Laureline and Major Valerine's latest mission brings them to the City of a Thousand Planets.
Science fiction films can often be depended up to transport a viewer to other world and dimensions, expand knowledge and fuel imagination or quite simply provide a fun and exciting thrill ride. Comic books can provide the same thing while having the readers actively participate as their imaginations fill in the details that the panels do not provide. Films like STAR WARS, FLASH GORDON and THE MATRIX certainly fit that bill. AKIRA, EDGE OF TOMORROW and SNOWPIERCER are just some recent examples of graphic novels that were adapted into some thought-provoking and exciting films. Director Luc Besson's highly entertaining science fiction fantasy adventure THE FIFTH ELEMENT may not have been based on a comic book but it still felt like one brought to life. Besson's latest film, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, is based on a comic book and certainly delivers on the visuals but sorely lacks in other areas which renders the film rather flat.
VALERIAN proves to be a veritable mix bag; yes, it's an oft used phrase but it certainly applies here. The film features great looking visuals and has many cool moments but throughout the film's two-plus hour running time those beats are few and far between. Having not read the comics upon which it is based it's hard to say if the issue here is the familiarity of the science fiction tropes or just the way Besson chose to present the story. There's no denying the influence of the comic created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. The books were published starting in 1967 and one can certainly see the impact it has had on filmmakers like George Lucas or Luc Besson. Nearly fifty years of science fiction films have graced the silver screen before this so it's truly dependent on the filmmaker's vision to present viewers with something old and something new. Sadly, Besson has missed the mark.
The great visuals and the cool moments are not enough to get one to overlook the film's many shortcomings. The greatest problem that this film has is that the performances are lacking. There is no detectable chemistry between the two leads. The banter between DeHaan and Delevingne can be humorous at times but you never really get a sense that these two have been partners for a long time let alone have feelings for each other. Clive Owen, a normally dependable actor, doesn't do a very good job of conveying his character's motivations and psychology. He was essentially reciting lines while lacking conviction. Rianna almost emerges unscathed except for a rather awkward exchange between her character, named Bubble, and DeHaan's Valerian. The scene lacked emotional weight and elicits shrugs instead of empathy. Ethan Hawke also appears but his presence draws you out of the film as it feel's like a publicity stunt like a guest cameo ala Eddie Murphy as the "strategic" guest star in BEST DEFENSE. It's as though Besson took a class in directing actors taught by George Lucas. Yes, the performances are prequel level.
There were many moments that were very cool and engaging but there is just too much dead air in between the notable set pieces. The action scenes are solid but the scenes that drive the story and/or provide the exposition can bring the film to a halt. In fact, one member in our group declared it one of the most boring films he ever had to sit through. The story lacks a pulse which Besson's other film THE FIFTH ELEMENT certainly had. While both have a compelling mystery driving the story VALERIAN is not as engaging nor is its conclusion anywhere near as satisfying. When VALERIAN ends you are more inclined to shout "that's it" not because you want more but because that's all it amounted to; which is surprising considering who's at the helm. So in this case was the story Besson chose to tell the wrong one? After all, he did write and direct an original and highly entertaining science fiction film which is highly regarded by many. Is the material to blame for the lack of excitement and awe? For this reviewer, SNOWPIERCER didn't work because the source material was dated. The story and science put forth came from the '80s but wasn't never really updated to the 21st century. For that reason it feels like VALERIAN didn't work because it arrived after countless imitators which likely robbed its universe of its mojo.
Like some of the STAR WARS prequels, Besson's latest is the type of film that you could have playing in the background. You'll stop what you're doing to watch your favorite scenes and go right back to what you were doing and so on and so forth. The film does provide some interesting ideas and fascinating situations but would have been better served if it focused more on its world building as opposed to the story that was ultimately told. Learning about these cultures and civilizations would have been far more entertaining than following these wooden soldiers into battle.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal