Sunday, July 30, 2017

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets Dazzles, But Fails To Pop.

The Good: Decent direction, Good themes, Wonderful special effects
The Bad: Mediocre plot and characters, Some huge technical gaps
The Basics: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a beautiful film that never quite manages to excite as much as it seems it should.

This summer, there have been very few films I have gotten excited about based upon the previews. One of the few I went into with virtually no outside knowledge of was Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. I saw a preview trailer for Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets and it looked intriguing. I knew that the film was based upon a graphic novel, but after reading The Coldest City (reviewed here!) to prepare myself for Atomic Blonde, I opted not to prepare myself for watching the movie by reading the graphic novel first. So, when I sat down to Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, all I was armed with was the information from the preview trailer and the knowledge that the opening-weekend grosses for the film were less-than-stellar.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a film by Luc Besson and about halfway through watching the movie, I got to thinking that The Fifth Element (reviewed here!) took a long time to find its audience. The Fifth Element is generally considered a film that was produced before its time and I highly suspect that Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets suffers from a similar problem. When Star Wars (reviewed here!) was first released and illustrated a populated universe, many critics were flummoxed; films that have tried to create similarly creative and alien-filled galaxies seem to stumble in a similar way. Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is very packed with creatures, devices and backstory, but outside the setting and themes, I found it virtually impossible to emotionally invest in the film.

Starting in 1975 with the first modules of the International Space Station being placed in Earth's orbit, the ISS expands over hundreds of years. The ISS is the site of first contact with aliens in 2150 and hundreds of years later, the station has been expanded to the point that its mass is no longer sustainable in orbit. It becomes known as Alpha Station and sent away from Earth. On the planet Mul, the peaceful, pearl-farming aliens are thriving and celebrating the environmental renewal when the planet is bombarded by massive pieces of military hardware and alien ships. Major Valerian awakens in a virtual reality program having just dreamed of Mul's destruction. Valerian, a law enforcement officer, and his partner (both on the job and in his personal life) Laureline, are tasked with recovering a Mul converter on the planet Kyrean. En route to the extra-dimensional Big Market on Kyrean, Valerian learns that he has been the recipient of external brainwaves, suggesting to him that he just received memories of Mul's destruction.

At the Big Market, Valerian and Laureline encounter the gangster Igon Siruss, who illegally obtained the converter. Valerian is in the process of stealing the converter when he recognizes the would-be buyers of the technology as people from Mul. After narrowly escaping with the super-valuable converter (which is the creature that made pearls on Mul), Laureline and Valerian journey to Alpha Station to defend the military leader of the humans. On Alpha Station, the pair learns that there is a growing irradiated zone on Alpha Station that threatens all life there. When the security council's meeting is attacked and Commander Filitt is captured, Valerian and Laureline go on a journey through Alpha Station to recover the military leader and in the process, they uncover a massive conspiracy surrounding the destruction of the planet Mul.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a tough film to unpack; the spectacle of the movie is near-complete. Indeed, the only bad effect that I noticed was that when characters pet the Mul converter, the hand motions/creature movements do not quite line up. The special effects element of Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets are immersive and, occasionally, overwhelming.

The story of Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is far less-impressive than the effects, though the themes of the film are decent and experimental in a way similar to those of The Fifth Element. The characters are a mix of engaging and very obvious archetypes. Valerian is a young Han Solo, cocksure, womanizing, and by-the-book; Laureline is efficient, ethical and able to use judgement as opposed to simply following the rules. But Laureline is also the character who explores the nature of love in Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets.

Dane DeHaan spends Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets delivering a performance that is identical to a young version of a well-known actor . . . I haven't been able to place it, but the entire time I was watching the film, I felt like I was watching someone else. Valerian is not poorly portrayed, but DeHaan plays him like himself playing the other actor playing the role. Cara Delevingne is good as Laureline, but Eric Lampaert's brief time on screen seems like Lampaert playing Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow for Thaziit and Ethan Hawke appears to be impersonating Mark McGrath for his part of Jolly The Pimp. Rihanna is surprisingly undistracting in the role of Bubble.

Despite the themes and the special effects, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a startling average science fiction action movie. While the film might age well, its time is not quite there yet and the film seems more like an academic exercise than a truly impressive and unique story of its own.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Atomic Blonde
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Baby Driver
Transformers: The Last Knight
Wonder Woman


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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