Let me preface the review with one statement (one that I am making before seeing the movie at that): Luc Besson is one of my favorite writers / directors / producers … except he seems to be coasting on former glory. Looking at his IMDB as a director, the last movie of his I liked was The Fifth Element in 1997 … that is twenty years ago. What about as a writer you might ask … I would respond saying Lockout (2012) was good but far from original no matter what he says. So the last legitimate writing credit I enjoyed was Taken in 2008, which was almost ten years ago and also the most recent producing credit of his that I enjoyed. All of that aside the man directed La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional which are both some of my favorite movies. Not to mention he also wrote / produced Kiss of the Dragon, The Transporter, District B13, and Unleashed which are all phenomenal movies as well.
Since his heyday, he has kept churning out movies with Lucy being the only worthwhile mention … and I believe it wouldn’t be mentioned if it weren’t for Scarlett Johansson. So it is with great hesitation that I went into Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which also happened to be the most expensive independent movie ever made. How does it stack up?
I would give it 5 “th Element”s out of 10 … Eehhh … ? See what I did there? But seriously, that is my score.
FOR THE UNITIATED
Valerian (as I will refer to the movie from this point on) starts out with a montage of the ISS getting bigger and bigger throughout the years and the introductions of aliens before being sent off as a large traveling space planet named Alpha. Then we move onto another planet with some androgynous beings who bath in, farm, and recycle pearls. Everything is a peaceful utopia until space ships start falling into their atmosphere. Almost everyone gets in a fallen spaceship for safety (really?) except for the princess who dies just after sending a wave of energy out.
Cut to Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Seargant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who are on a mission to retrieve a replicator . It just so happens this is the same one seen in the opening with the aliens. Before arriving to their rendezvous point which happens to be Alpha … City of a Thousand Planets, Major Valerian proposes to Laureline. They are then tasked with protecting Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) who gets kidnapped by the same mysterious androgynous aliens from Valerian’s dream. They take him to the radioactive, contaminated area that according to the commander needs to be eradicated. Valerian and Laureline have to use their smarts to travel around Alpha to get to the bottom of the conspiracy and save the not so innocent commander. Along the way we also get to meet Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) and his shapeshifting worker named Bubble (Rihanna).
If you liked The Fifth Element or liked the trailers for Valerian, then you will like this movie. I will even take it a step further and say if you have ever watched Star Wars or Star Trek and wanted to see more of the background characters, then this is for you. Visually it is a fantastic movie that seems to only move forward just so you can see another race of aliens or another crazy set piece.
Supposedly Luc Besson had wanted to make a Valerian movie even before The Fifth Element but didn’t believe the technology existed. Then when Avatar (James Cameron’s not M. Night Shymalan’s) came out, he realized the bar had not only been set but raised. So he rewrote the script that he had and started over. Hard to believe that took almost 8 years. While Besson did not progress the projection side of the industry, he did go with a slightly more original story.
Long story short, if you want a pretty movie with weird aliens then go ahead and see thia one.
The plot and acting is far from a selling point. Dane Dehaan (Major Valerian) seemingly stole his manner of speaking from Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeve’s character in Point Break). That wouldn’t have been bad if he showed an iota of talent or charisma in the slightest, which is sad since I enjoyed him in Chronicle. It isn’t all his fault since his counterpart Cara Delevingne had a similar issue. There were several lines that seemed like that they were either the first take or the last take of the day, they fell horribly flat. By the end of the movie when the villain’s motives and back story are getting revealed, they repeat everything twice in case you missed it.
Valerian is the movie equivalent of “beauty is only skin deep”. That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of world building, but almost none of it is based on plot or characters. As I said earlier, if you liked The Fifth Element or the trailer then you are set. It is worth seeing in theatres in that case, especially in 3D. Otherwise, just wait for a home release.
The obvious pick is a movie I mentioned several times already (The Fifth Element), but instead I will go with a lesser mentioned film from earlier … Leon: The Professional. The big name to come out of this movie is Natalie Portman as pretty much her first movie. Either way, it is the story of a professional hitman who is slightly slow. He happens to get entangled with a young girl who’s family was murdered by a crooked cop. FANTASTIC movie that is well worth watching or rewatching.