Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review
And the Worst Script Award goes to...
Luc Besson tries to recapture the grand sci-fi-action-comedy blend that made The Fifth Element so magical with this adaptation of the popular French comic book.Unfortunately, he utterly fails. Despite being one of the most expensive films in French history, and featuring more effects shots than Rogue One, Valerian falls down, hard, on its face, when it comes to just about every important element required to make a good movie. If it doesn't involve innovative visual effects and imaginative action, it's basically 12 year old schoolboy standard.Based on the long-running French Valerian and Laureline comic book series, the movie follows Major Valerian and his partner Sergeant Laureline, two highly trained spec ops agents who are drafted in on a covert mission to recover a package, but inadvertently step into a massive intergalactic conspiracy involving alien terrorists, government cover-ups, and planet-killing genocide.
The story is largely a gender-reversed Fifth Element riff, which attempts to cover up its desperate lack of originality by repeatedly going on random and utterly pointless detours that only feed its painfully bloated runtime. One such detour involves Rhianna dancing in different outfits for an inexplicably long time despite being neither entertaining, nor serving the plot whatsoever. This should be more than enough to set off warning bells.
The characters are now Besson-trademark caricatures, requiring no backstory because he's written in every cliche in the book. The cocky, arrogant, hotshot hero in the Tom Cruise / Maverick mold. The tough, gives-as-good-as-she-gets partner/heroine. The friendly sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace banter he pesters her with knowing that eventually she'll come around. Because Besson will make it so. The man writes like a child. These two have zero depth, no tangible backstory to their best-of-the-best existence, are horribly miscast (watch this back to back with Chronicle or The Place Beyond the Pines and you'll wonder what happened to DeHaan, and part of the reason Cara Delevingne gets off lightly is because she's starring in a film with the world's worst singer-who-thought-she-could-be-an-actress-who-seems-to-have-forgotten-Battleship although, to be fair, she's a whole lot more likeable than DeHaan) and have no chemistry whatsoever. This renders almost every word of dialogue between them utterly take-you-out-of-the-movie painful. And they have a lot of words.
Besson can't write characters, only caricatures; can't write dialogue, only regurgitate cliches; can't write a story, just remixes other stories.
Clive Owen takes a big fat Brando paycheck for 15 minutes of his life and a complete loss of all dignity and credibility (things have got to be bad when Owen can't bring some gravitas to a bad movie), and Ethan Hawke... Besson can't write characters, he can only write caricatures; he can't write dialogue, he can only regurgitate cliches; he can't write a story, he can just remix other, better stories. There are hints of Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy and, of course, Besson's own, far better, The Fifth Element. But whilst, 20 years ago, Besson's flair for imaginative visuals and continental flavouring managed to turn a simple idea into a kooky gem - a brilliant fusion of action, sci-fi and, curiously, comedy - he clearly doesn't have the magic anymore. His ideas and attempts at bottling lightning just fall flat. His comedy is inept and childish (indeed his attempts at 'romance' will likely prove unintentionally hilarious), and whilst his action and sci-fi efforts are admirable, they are utterly drowned out by the rest of the dross.
Valerian offers a first half hour of surprisingly compelling, innovative sci-fi fantasy - bringing forward some genuinely good ideas (the future-VR-style bazaar is utter genius), and a great Star Wars-ish fun vibe to the Star Trek landscape. The inane dialogue between the lead characters distracts, but there's more than enough decent setup to propel you into the main narrative, where Besson's wide-eyed child's mind actually benefits the piece, resulting in some of the most amazing visuals you'll see on the Big Screen this year, culminating, towards the end of the first act, with a tremendous extended chase sequence that has the lead character barge his way head-first through different 'worlds'. Unfortunately it's all sharply downhill from there and the Fifth Element-lite finale doesn't come close to redeeming the woefully misguided, plodding middle act.
Trim at least half an hour from the saggy middle, strip it down to the simple core narrative, and thus lose the 10 minute 'flashback/recap/exposition' scene towards the end, and then remove every single line of dialogue between the lead characters (again, Besson's view of 'marriage proposals' appears to be that of a 12 year old boy) and maybe, just maybe, this'd be a fun, flashy, visual ride. Rather than a big, botched, bloated mess which will be likely better enjoyed/endured in the comfort of your own home.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.