Friday, February 2, 2018

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
Rent Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets on Amazon Video
Written by: Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres (based on the comic book series "Valerian and Laureline" by), Luc Besson (screenplay by)
Directed by: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer
Rated: PG-13
Watch the trailer 

A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding threat and save not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

It's a great spectacle but falls prey to more than a few tropes. The inventive opening and world building are unfortunately an early high point. The leads feel miscast and are hampered by a forced romance. There's certainly a good idea in this, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired.
It depends.

This has a great opening. There's no dialog as we see this space station that slowly evolves. We see astronauts from different countries meet, then we see an admiral greeting different visitors as he ages between each shot. The visitors at first are human before aliens begin to arrive at the space station. Eventually the station becomes so large it's launched into deep space. Visitors from thousands of planets meet on this station, Alpha. It's great world building and nothing else in the movie is as subtle and engrossing as this opening.
Space Station Alpha
Dane DeHaan plays Valerian, but he just never feels like the dashing rogue as characterized nor does he feel old enough to be a Major in the galaxy police force. An interesting question, why are only humans policing the galaxy?
The character/actor that would have worked better in this would be Guy Pearce as Marion Snow in Lock Out (2012). He would be old enough to be a major and he has the right presence, Valerian is just too young.  Lock Out is another space adventure movie that was co-written by this movies cowriter/director Luc Besson.
This movie very much wants a wise cracking lead, but instead we get a budget version with DeHaan. DeHaan and Delevingne both felt like a couple of kids masquerading as adults. I don't know if the movie is trying to be inspirational, but it seemed like the characters should be older.

Valerian and Sergeant Laureline are an mismatched team. She's no-nonsense, rebuffing his flirting with the one sided romance the movie forces on us early. Valerian asks to marry her and she shuts him down as they don't have a romantic relationship anyway. At first I thought he was just joking, but it's a serious proposal which is baffling with the context we're provided.
This romance subplot could and should have been cut out completely. It only diminished Laureline, relegating her to a side character meant to support Valerian. While she has a fair amount of agency, it's an incredibly overused story line. She's a good character stuck in a movie that's trying to trap her.

Valerian's dream about a low tech planet and current mission to retrieve a rare and powerful tool intersect creating political intrigue and a mystery. The planet in his dream did exist, but is now gone. What happened to this planet he saw in the dream and who is trying to keep its existence a secret? This is a grand space adventure, but other than our introduction there is nothing that distinguishes it. There's a long and indulgent dance featuring Rihanna. It's great CGI as she's a shape shifter, but doesn't have much of a point other than to show off the CGI and Rihanna.
The extra-dimensional bazaar early on is a great concept, but this is another detail that's at the beginning.

This begins to explore themes of being a soldier who follows orders and when your morality should over ride orders. It's not that effective. Valerian states a couple times he's a soldier, but when he has a moral choice Lauraline tells him what to do. The other side of that is a Commander who believes the means justify the end, but instead of nuance he's just portrayed as a straight villain.

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