Valerian and the Review of a Film with a Long Title (Spoiler Free)
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the newest film from director Luc Besson (Lucy, the 5th Element) and is based on the French comic book series Valérian and Laureline. This series featured two main characters of the same name and their epic space adventures in the distant future. If you were one of the few who was able to catch the seven minute preview in front of a Spider-Man Homecoming screening, you might have been intrigued by the light-hearted yet beautiful space-montage teaser that set the stage for the opening of Valerian. This preview emanated a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe and actually got me more excited to see the movie. Seeing this sneak peak gave me somewhat higher hopes after the first trailer had left me thinking this would be the next John Carter. Unfortunately, after leaving the theater and actually seeing Valerian, I kind of felt like it was. I wouldn't say that's necessarily a bad thing. Neither John Cartner nor Valerian are bad movies, they just weren't able to click with the audience they were geared towards. Yes, there are some pretty cool moments and impressive visuals in Valerian and the Ridiculously Long Title but these scenes are, unfortunately, strung together by scenes of formulaic dialogue and a chemistry that is so non-existent you wonder how these two got paired up to begin with.
At times the romance between the two leads just seemed downright forced. They have moments where one has to save the other but I just imagined their inner dialogue thinking "Ehhh, it's all good, I think I'll just continue this mission on my own". The opening of the film was strong. It featured David Bowie's "Major Tom to Ground Control" and a nice splicing of real life looking space footage. This transition helps connect the setting and lore to real life, (even Rutger Hauer has a short scene here, and is never seen again.) However, the moment it cuts to Valerian and Laureline it quickly becomes apparent that they might not be enough to push the film along. They seem to be lacking in compassion for anyone who helps them along the way. Even when other characters seemed to be putting themselves in the most danger, the two leads hardly think twice about it, going along as if they were on a space ride at Universal Studios. That said, the focus of the story seemed to side with Laureline more than Valerian, but perhaps someone thought "Laureline and the City of a Thousand Planets" or "Valerian and Laureline" might not have as much of a ring to it. There's just something about Dane DeHaan that doesn't seem to work as a lead in this type of role. He just seems better suited as a secondary character in this situation. Along with DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, we have Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke and Rihanna. Clive Owen does what he can with the dialogue he's given but it comes off a bit one-note at times. Ethan Hawke is pretty charismatic, by no surprise, but he isn't around for very long. Rihanna's character is introduced in a dance scene in which she contorts her body in ways that had me wondering whether or not a stunt double was used. She has some humorous moments afterward but ultimately seems to be there to serve one purpose in Valerian and Laureline's adventure. There are also quite a few different alien characters along the way which are recreated straight from the comic it was based on, which helped to create some diversity in the world. Some of the more prominent ones included a race of pale aliens who all had female voices, some large troll like aliens who provide a few laughs and a group of goblin aliens who pop up out of nowhere every so often and end up annoying Laureline more than they help her.
The one thing I can credit the film on is some of the gorgeous CGI which holds the world together; From giant space stations and floating cities to fantastical lands that look like a prettier version of Earth. There are a few action sequences where Valerian crashes through several walls or floors which makes for some really fun sequences and impressive visuals. The skinny pale alien race has a beautifully rendered home world that looks like a great place for a vacation but we only get glimpses of that here and there. Having not been a reader of the comics I only have images from the internet to compare the world to. From what I can see they did a great justice in recreating such an impressive futuristic setting. Unfortunately, this probably means that a lot of what we see was filmed on a green screen set which can sometimes hamper an actors performance when they aren't fully immersed in what can only be seen in post production. This could explain some of the issues I brought up above. CGI always serves as both a blessing and a curse. It's great to see properties like this one materialize into big budget features but unfortunately they don't always translate well. With the looming budget of $180 mill to make this film, it will likely harm it more than help push along more original properties, depending on how it does in the box office. I'm giving Valerian 6 out of 10 CGI aliens. If you haven't seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, go check it out. If you have seen it, what is your favorite epic space adventure movie and how does this compare?