Friday, November 17, 2017

Valerian and the City of a 1000 Planets

    I really wish this movie had succeeded and this is one of the few times I'm writing a review because I'm encouraging people to give it a chance. It's not a film which I think is going to have quite the same staying power as The Fifth Element (which we'll get into below) but it probably should. It's entertaining throughout and while I can definitely see they shot the money, it's a beautiful world and I wouldn't mind Luc Besson having another crack at the series.

I like the movie's effective anti-war pro-refugee theme.
    The movie is based on the psychedelic sci-fi French comic which follows the titular characters in adventures across space and time. The movie is kind of in a weird place as Luc Besson shot himself in the foot making it because he's already made a knock-off that's better known in America. I speak, of course, of The Fifth Element which is the trippy beautiful The Phantom Menace-esque view of the future that starred Valerian and Laureline knock-offs in Bruce Willis as well as Mila Jovovich. It's sort of like George Lucas making his Flash Gordon movie after Star Wars.

    Indeed, The Fifth Element hangs like a cloud over this movie because Dane DeHaan and Vara Delevingne are not as good as Bruce Willis and Mila Jovavich. This is not a slight on them as actors but the fact Bruce and Mila did fantastic jobs in The Fifth Element. They had excellent chemistry, the plot was surreal but comprehensible, and everything just seemed to gel in what is still an action sci-fi classic. Dane and Vara just aren't QUITE up there with the movie feeling a bit like we're treading old ground. It doesn't help, for whatever reason, Dane does a Keanu Reeves accent the entire movie. Despite that, it definitely does feel like The Fifth Element and that's not entirely a bad thing either.

I do like the way the actors play off one another.
    The premise for the story is the Earth built an international space station which gradually was built upon (that's not how space stations work), turned into a multi-species city, and fell out of Earth's control. It's basically the Citadel from Mass Effect only even larger with more biodiversity.

    Meanwhile, a conflict among humans resulted in the destruction of a planet inhabited by mermaid-like people called Pearls. Valerine (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Vara Delevingne) get involved due to a smuggling deal gone wrong before they decide what to do about the cover-up. Less amusing but still plot vital is Valerian is trying to wear down Laureline into marrying him by repeatedly asking despite her obvious disinterest.

    What follows is basically a series of short adventures, like a comic book, which deal with our heroes visiting a wide variety of oddball and strange locations. They have shoot outs with the Pearl "terrorists", they go in a submarine to get a special jellyfish, they sneak into a brothel, they have Rihanna do a striptease (that part got quite a few people's attention), and they almost get eaten by a set of monsters. It's a vignette movie and benefits from the fact while not everyone on the screen may make sense, it's always entertaining.
The aliens are extraordinarily well-designed

    Sadly, the movie does have two major flaws for something which seems primarily composed of mind-sugar. The first of these flaws is we never actually get to know the characters that well. We see them punch, quip, and shoot things but what makes them tick never quite gels. Valerian is something of a playboy and Laureline is an idealist while they both have extreme devotion to the other but I never got a real handle on who they are. The second of these flaws? Man, does this movie drag at times. There's like ten minutes of seeing the space station constructed and shaking hands--literally. There's also weird moments like the fact they shrug off the dead of a team assigned to help them complete a mission like they don't matter in the slightest. We also are introduced to our lead characters when they're well into their relationship yet not romantically involved so it feels like we're playing catch up.

Clive Owen does a decent job as the villain.
    I do give credit to the movie for being an anti-war action film which actually works. We see the conflict which destroys the Pearls' way of life, how the attitude of the military brought it about, and how the subsequent actions of the government to cover it up were wrong. Clive Owen is entirely believable as the General Ripper-esque war criminal The Commander and yet also over-the-top enough to be enjoyed as a comic book villain.

     I also have to say the movie's most interesting and entertaining cast members aren't the leads. I can't name who their characters are but Rihann, the platypus alien triplets, the Pearl Princess, and the Commander are all incredibly good bits of acting which carry the film along. All of them seem more interesting than Valerian and Laureline as well. I think it's because they emote a lot more while our heroes remain a bit dull even when in the throws of passion.

    This is a visually stunning movie. It is an artistic treat with all manner of fascinating aliens, environments, and materials. Do I recommend it? Yes, I do. It's not one of the best sci-fi movies of all times but I think it's something well worth checking out. Could it have been better? I think so but I think part of the issue is lightning is hard to bottle--especially twice. I think this is also a fun movie and isn't that really the point?


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