I have a soft spot for Luc Besson’s films. La Femme Nikita was my introduction to his work (thankfully, the intro was a good one), because there’s been the occasional let down, and yet I still get excited when I see his name attached. Which is why I had high hopes for his latest project, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, aka France’s most expensive movie ever made, by a lot.
There was a lot of press on this film surrounding its release, and I remember Luc being unhappy with the state of the film industry at the time. Other comic book stories translated to the screen had been dominating the scene, with some of them being overwhelmingly well received, while his comic book tale fell flat. He felt his movie didn’t get its rightful due, not taking into consideration that maybe his film just wasn’t that good.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful to watch, but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) compensate for a lack of story and boring characters. I mean, when the lifeless portrayal of a shape shifting alien, played by Rihanna is one of the best performances, that’s saying something. Because the movie is based on a comic series, I’m sure there were other stories to choose from, so I have to wonder, why did he choose this one?
Valerian offered us a glimpse into an amazing world, but the lack of a compelling introduction and the lack of interesting lead characters had me contemplating turning it off within the first 15 minutes, but I believed, and hoped, that sticking it out would lead to a satisfying end. It did not.
Major Valerian played by Dane DeHaan and his partner Sergeant Laureline played by Cara Delevingne are basically special ops officers sent in to recover sensitive material in an illegal transaction. They later learn that their mission was part of a cover up of a shameful military commander’s actions from years earlier – the decimation of a planet and its inhabitants.
Known as Pearls, these beautiful, androgynous aliens, thought to be primitive because of their simple existence are nearly extinguished during a war they aren’t even a part of. I think they’re the best part of the entire film. We soon discover they’re basically geniuses, learning advanced math and science theories and practices in a matter of years not only to survive, but also because they wish to return to their way of life. But as clichéd villains go, the ol’ commander doesn’t want any reminders of the past.
That’s the plot in a nutshell.
The side story is the uninteresting love connection they’re trying to force on us between the Major and the Sergeant. There is absolutely no spark between the two leads. Their performances, for me, were flat and dull. Valerian, as we learn through a quick recap, is a womanizer, and most likely for sake of the film and in the hopes we’ll root for them, becomes fixated on his partner. There is absolutely no cause for this other than their close proximity to one another.
Suddenly, he’s proposing, and that dominates nearly every conversation between them the rest of the movie. Ugh. And this coming from a romantic.
I was bitter that such a beautiful, overachieving movie would fall so flat, especially in such capable hands – those same hands are responsible for The Professional. The advances in technology have allowed us unlimited potential in our imaginations in regards to translating that to the screen, and I think that Valerian relied too heavily upon this. Enamored with their visuals, they forgot that some of us were paying attention to why we were there in the first place – the story.
Ah well, not every time out can be a winner. Will I continue to support Luc and his visions? Of course. But whereas I was disappointed that I didn’t initially see this in theaters, I’ll probably weigh this endeavor against any future films and the feelings of immediacy at seeing it in theaters in way of support.