Anghus Houvouras on Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets…
TL;DR: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a terrible movie & super disappointing because of how much I love Luc Besson’s earlier films.
The long version:
I love Luc Besson. One of his films, Leon: The Professional, I list in my top 10 movies of all time. It’s a movie I unabashedly love and have seen over 30 times. Besson is a filmmaker who has made some very interesting movies during his career, including the action classic La Femme Nikita and the corny, ridiculously fun The Fifth Element. Not everything he touches turns to gold. He’s made a few movies that are less than stellar like The Messenger and Lucy. But more often than not he’s an interesting filmmaker with a distinct style. When I heard he was heading back into the world of Science Fiction, I was excited to see the results. Enthralled, even. Especially considering how damn boring space operas have become. Disney’s Star Wars have enveloped the world of space adventure and turned it into formulaic fan service. To get a wide world of exciting space adventure from Luc Besson like Valerian felt like a gift to film fans.
The results are mind-blowing in the worst way possible. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an epic disappointment. I’ll try to tackle the issues with the film in order of importance. First up, the casting. I can’t remember a movie so completely decimated by awful, awful casting. Dane DeHaan might be the most unlikable leading man I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s like someone took Keanu Reeves and ran him through a strainer where charisma and personality were rinsed away. Think of an evolutionary chart. If Keanu Reeves is on the right representing the modern stoic blockbuster leading mean Dane DeHaan would be on the other side representing the hunched over devolved version. You’d see Channing Tatum and Paul Walker somewhere between the two. Basically Dane DeHaan is the homo erectus of the movie star world. His expressions are awkward and his line delivery is so free of energy that every sentence sounds like it’s being uttered by someone who just finished a marathon.
His co-star Cara Delevingne isn’t going to win any acting awards either, but there was at least an effort to craft some kind of performance. The writing doesn’t help either of them as they are forced to deliver one cringe-worthy line after the next. The script sounds like it was written by a 10-year-old after freebasing a case of pixie sticks and Pepsi. And that almost seems insulting to 10 years olds who have produced far more engaging videos than any five minutes of Valerian.
The plot involves a giant city that houses all the races of the universe. Something is threatening the existence of this universal version of Epcot and only Valerian (DeHaan) and Laureline (Delevingne) can prevent its impending destruction. Besson provides a lot of eye-popping visuals but the characters within the story are so bad. The idea of creating this beautiful cinematic world where anything can happen and then plopping two boring cardboard cutouts as our tour guides feels more wasted than a vat of bacon fat at a vegan food festival.
At about the halfway mark I settled into a stunned malaise at the insipid nonsense I was being subjected to. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, Rihanna showed up. And that’s when things got knocked into twelfth gear. Rihanna’s brief 15 minutes in the movie might be the worst portrayal of anything every in any performance medium since cavemen did shadow puppets on cave walls. She’s a shop-vac powered vacuum sucking in what little energy the movie had left and depositing the movie into the septic tank of cinematic history. Her performance in Valerian was like the video from The Ring. I’m convinced in six more days Rihanna is going to crawl out of my television and eat my soul.
Do not go see Valerian. Do not rent it when it comes out on Redbox in six weeks or watch it once it becomes available on a streaming service. I wish I had one of those neuralizers from Men in Black so that I could erase any and all memory of this movie, but only after tracking down every digital file of the film and pouring acid on the servers that house it.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a gargantuan disappointment. Mainly because Luc Besson has shown himself to be so versatile when playing in this kind of toy box. There’s no spark, no charisma and no action sequences that stand out. It’s just a giant computer generated sandbox of beautiful images that never get fully realized thanks to some terrible storytelling.