July 22, 2017
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets begins promisingly enough, with a space exploration montage set to David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity.” It’s fascinating. It’s clever. It’s unique. Unfortunately, as one of the last good moments in the movie, it’s all downhill from there.
Part video game, part amusement park ride, part enormous waste of time, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, from director Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element), is based on the French comic book series about the adventures of Valerian and Laureline, two 28th-century special ops agents fighting to keep universal peace. These 3- and 4-syllable heroes evidently do not believe in nicknames. If Captain America can be called “Cap” in the Marvel cinematic universe, can V and Lala not take a cue?
This initial installment (with a title like that, it’s obviously another intended franchise starter) focuses on the planet Alpha, which can grossly be described as George Lucas’ wet dream. That is to say, there are entirely too many spaceships on screen at any one time. Seriously, this movie is far too often reminiscent of I-77 at rush hour. It’s not exactly clear whether the 3D experience—which the advanced screening was—is a help or hinderance, but Valerian is sooo CGI-heavy that it sometimes feels like the not-long-awaited sequel to Space Jam.
The human (read: real) characters are far outnumbered by super-annoying computer-generated ones. There are bald, albino, Prometheus-style engineers who are skinny, a trio of platypuses who finish each other’s sentences, and some cute little guinea pig-sized dinosaur-type creatures who poop pearls. If this all sounds a little silly and difficult to watch, that’s because it is.
The worst thing about this film, though, is the awful script. It’s dull-witted, bland, and cliche-laden. The moment we start to wonder if the target audience is actually kids is ironically was right about when we get an extravagant, shape-shifting pole dance from Rihanna (the one saving grace other than the “Space Oddity” open, which alone merits at least half a star). But, so no, not for kids. At times, it was indiscernible whether the audience was laughing at or with the movie, but there were definitely a few moviegoers who walked out midway through. It’s all a shame, too, because it’s a waste of a great cast.
As Valerian, Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-man 2), whether intentional or not, sounds an awful lot like Keanu Reeves, which is strange because he never really has in previous roles. Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) is Laureline, a strong female character (but honestly, aren’t they all these days? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just acknowledging the Trend of the Moment; Strong Female is the new Male Antihero) whose large, commanding eyes are regrettably made less conspicuous by her ridiculously prominent boob-armor. Ethan Hawke maintains his Magnificent Seven cowboy hat in his wardrobe, but adds a blacklight Sgt. Pepper jacket and some Capt. Jack Sparrow eyeliner as Jolly the Pimp, who gets about five whole minutes of screen time, and Clive Owen, after coming off his incredible work on The Knick, takes a giant leap backward in a small, forgettable role as well. It’s not as much an indictment of the actors as it is proof of the importance of good writing in inspiring memorable performances.
A great movie connects with audiences with the trifecta of artistic direction, an imaginative script, and exceptional acting. Sadly, this film misses on all three, and the plethora of similarities to the Star Wars prequels bury Valerian in the abyss of that which is consigned for sci-fi oblivion. In the end, with all its visual spectacle, there’s absolutely nothing groundbreaking about the film and, except for a very few choice moments, it’s a stretch to call it entertainment. Will children enjoy it? Maybe so. But for adults, it’s a brutal struggle. Even the pearlpoopers can’t save this one.
Star rating: 1½ out of 5 stars