Last year, one movie that I really wanted to see was Valerian (full title: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”), a film by Luc Besson, who made one of my go-to SciFi movies, “The Fifth Element”. Known for making movies that are visually stunning, blending humor and action, and a penchant for strong female characters, I thought this couldn’t go wrong.
Alas, I didn’t make it to the theaters to see it, and I kept checking for it on Netflix and Hulu, without any satisfaction. Then when I got a spot bonus at work with Amazon gift cards, I went to it on their site, and instead of dropping it into my shopping cart, I noticed that it was available as part of my Prime membership. Cool.
Yesterday I watched it. Well, about 2/3rds of it at least.
Visually, the cinematography is outstanding. From the opening scenes of the destruction of Mül, where the audience can get the theme of the replicator, and the demise of the civilization on Mül, to the beach scene where we first meet Major Valerian, and his “partner”, Laureline, their mission to the “Big Market” and the virtual/real world hybrid, sets the stage for the reality that they inhabit.
The effects are superb, and indeed, Luc is a master of visual story telling.
The Aliens. Here again, special effects, but the breadth, the variety, and the visuals of the different species is outstanding.
The Story. Here is where this bit o’ visual heaven begins to unravel. First, the main protagonists, Valerian and his sidekick, Laureline, are young. Not a bad thing, but for someone with a degree in physics, and able to suspend disbelief at will, it defies all logic to assume that Valerian is of rank ‘Major’, a super agent, crime fighter in the intergalactic federation. Warp speed, instantaneous transportation over lightyears of distance, and I don’t bat an eye. But warped hierarchies in a heavily military inspired stratified social order, yeah, just not buying it.
Then there is the interplay between the two main characters, played by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne. Playful, tension, some romantic undercurrents, Laureline – the sidekick – is the conscience, and the “save the bacon” alter ego/conscience, whereas Valerian is the dive in and be reckless super-agent. This works after a fashion, and it does seem like it plays to Luc’s past work, where the young Milla Jovovich was cast as the savior of the universe in The Fifth Element. But you get the impression that the story was secondary to the effects.
In the end, the visuals, and the admittedly decent protagonists aren’t enough to save this film from, not quite mediocrity, but certainly not a go-to when I want to fall into a familiar world and story, like The Fifth Element, or The Matrix, or even Bladerunner, movies that I can watch over and over, enjoying them at each viewing.
I did learn that Valerian was based on a graphic novel series (AKA Comic Books) that Luc Besson credits with starting his life-long SciFi and move making ambitions. Having found a free site to read the first volume (free on Apple Bookstore) I will work my way though this medium that I frankly don’t enjoy, to see if reading a bit of the mystique behind the duo will help me appreciate the movie more. I doubt it.
I did poke around some of the review sites, and I was stunned by how much bashing of the two main protagonists is out there. Those saying that Cara Delevingne can’t act, and only pouts through the entire movie. Wow, I didn’t get that. I did thing that Dane DeHaan seemed to try to be like Keanu Reeves, but failed to pull off that level of “coolness”.
To each their own, I guess. Better dialog, and story development could have made this an epic, worthy of being added to my collection, but as of now, it remains in the “meh” category.
I really wanted to love this, but I just can’t get there.