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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Watching Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is akin to watching hundreds of millions of dollars burn right before your eyes for over two hours.  Yes, you can see every cent that Luc Besson sunk into making his vision of vast alien worlds, and an endless array of bizarre alien creatures parade across the screen.  But it's all at the service of a boring plot that would barely pass on a 1980s Saturday Morning Cartoon.  Combine this with wooden acting from the human characters, and a plot that nobody could give a hoot about, and you have the biggest and most expensive Sci-Fi misfire since Jupiter Ascending.

At the center of all the vast worlds and strange creatures are the two human stars, Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan from A Cure for Wellness) and Laureline (model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne).  They're a pair of interplanetary agents who engage in a lot of flirty banter that we might believe in if the young actors in these roles didn't have the personality and screen chemistry of deadwood.  Even though they share the screen a lot during the course of the film, they act like they shot their scenes separately, and were added in together in the editing room.  Early on, Valerian asks Laureline if she would like to marry him, and to be honest, I couldn't tell if he was being sincere or sarcastic.  That's just how miscast these actors are.  We don't detect any emotion, any heart, and certainly no sense of any relationship.  So, when one of them goes to the end of the Earth to save the other, we just stare blankly at the screen instead of getting wrapped up in the emotional plight.

If it were just the two lead performances that felt muted, I could chalk it up to the actors not being comfortable performing in front of a green screen for the entire shoot.  But, the whole plot is equally uninvolved.  Yes, the movie has been dressed in the finest special effects Hollywood can buy, and they virtually fill every corner of the screen.  But the plot is the very definition of half-assed, and the characters and dialogue don't hold up much better.  The story involves a planet that was mysteriously destroyed some 30 years ago, and now Valerian somehow has the spirit of the dead alien princess of that planet enter his body, and starts filling his head with visions of that world's final moments.  The doomed alien race kind of look like relatives to the creatures from James Cameron's Avatar, and they have cute little CG pets who literally poop an endless supply of precious stones.  Valerian and Laureline get involved when they are tasked with saving one of the little pooping creatures (which somehow survived the planet's destruction), as it may hold the key to rebuilding the planet.

There's a kidnapped Commander (Clive Owen), a lot of weird aliens who really just stand around looking like expensive CG effects without really adding anything, and a plot twist that is so spelled out, you can see the "surprise" villain coming almost from the second the character walks on the screen.  We get a lot of weird cameos as well, such as Ethan Hawke as a bizarre pimp, with recording artist Rihanna showing up as his star attraction.  Her stage performance (complete with stripper pole) stops the film, and not in a good way.  It literally comes in the middle of a crucial moment, and the movie forces us to watch her performance for far too long, all the while, the audience is getting restless.  Like just about everyone and everything else in this movie, she's interesting to look at, but she adds absolutely nothing and grinds any and all momentum to a total stop.

However, this would imply that Valerian had momentum in the first place, which it does not.  You can tell that Besson is going for a lighthearted, fun and at times comedic approach with his intentionally corny and banter-filled script, but it's just not very enjoyable, and every joke and one liner falls with a clanging thud.  This overly whimsical tone also drains any drama from the narrative, which makes it hard to get involved with anything up on the screen, aside from the visuals.  And despite the impressive scope of the film (and at a reported budget of $180 million, it had better be impressive), the visuals are simply not enough to carry the immediately forgettable plot, characters and stilted acting.

Unless you are familiar with the long-running French comic book that inspired this film, I can't see this movie being very appealing.  I'm not familiar with the comic itself, and all I found myself wondering is if it really is as generic as this adaptation makes it out to be, how did it become so influential to various artists and filmmakers over the years?  I also wondered why so much money was being thrown at something so undeserving.  For all of its grand ambitions, Valerian simply comes across as the most expensive cinematic junk heap to hit screens in many a moon.

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