Movie Review : Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
The ripple effect of Disney's corporate takeover of LucasFilms can be felt today more than ever. They made space opera cool for every middle-aged faux geek who used to laugh Star Wars dork making the line for Phantom Menace in the mid-nineties. These guys now have children and turn to pop culture in order to foster bonds through ready-made material instead of taking them on a hike or whatever. So, everyone loves Star Wars now and every studio wants to find its own space opera to promote. Paramount has its arch-rival Star Trek, Marvel has Guardians of the Galaxy (more dough for Disney Corp.) and now Luc Besson, director of the iconic Fifth Element, bought the rights to French comic Valérian et Laureline to mine for cinematic gold. The first (and perhaps only) chapter Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an colossal mess. A wild, colorful and absolutely incoherent mess.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is set in a distant future where an international space station became so popular, successful and structurally gigantic, it was ejected into space so it wouldn't fall down in Earth. Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) work on the space station as special agents in charge of maintaining peace between the species. They are tasked to recover a "converter", a small animal capable of multiplying whatever he ingests, from a black market dealer. They mission is unexpectedly perilous, but they succeed and head back for the space station where the Commander (Clive Owen) announces that an "infection" is taking its core. They organize an emergency council with representatives of every race on the station, which is crashed by an unknown party with non-lethal guns. These guys kidnap the commander and-.
Man, that movie made no sense whatsoever.
The first thing you'll notice about Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is how ridiculously derivative of the Star Wars Universe it is. It's borderline fan fiction. There is: a Tattooine-like sand planet, a black marketer who looks like Jabba the Hut's brother-in-law *, evil droids, an almost identical replica of the Millenium Falcon and I'm just grazing the surface here. I don't care how Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is to its source material. That would only mean that the source material is derivative of Star Wars too. Even the poster is a ripoff. I wouldn't mind the plot holes and the mediocre screenwriting if Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets at least tried to be original. Luc Besson's only artistic consideration here was seemingly to take his part of the space opera market Disney created with its Star Wars revival.
It's too bad the blatant cynicism of the production undermined Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets because it's colorful, fast-paced, action-packed (even if it doesn't always make sense) and hides a handful of good performances. Cara Delevingne effortlessly carries her prepubescent co-lead. Delevingne never really played difficult parts to my knowledge, yet always managed to be convincing. She offers a dependable performance as Laureline. Rihanna's cameo went a lot better than expected too. The entire segment involving her was just one big, ridiculous detour to involve her in the movie **, but she proved she could carry a character that isn't just sexy-and-promiscuous-girl-X-who-happens-to-look-exactly-like-Rihanna. If she ever takes interest in acting, both her brand and her skills could get her somewhere. Fuck, am I really talking about personal branding in the middle of a movie review? Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is that kind of film.
On a more positive note, I believe Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was the most enjoyable movie I've ever seen in 3D. Part of that stemmed from the sweeping expository shots that went through entire cities at once. The movie was obviously designed for 3D, which I'm sure is annoying on regular screen. It's also another cynical cash grab from Luc Besson but it's a well-executed one that actually warrants paying five extra dollars a ticket. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a very skippable film if you're not actively craving a space opera. Let's say you've just seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 and you're pumped for more space shit, it's the kind of movie you should aim for. It's going to offer you supplementary thrills without a competing storyline. Otherwise, don't let Luc Besson get away with your money like the Hamburglar and wait for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to land on Netflix.
* That guy swears revenge on Major Valerian at some point and then disappears from the movie without being heard from again.
** Seriously, you could've cut these thirty-something minutes and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets would've only been better.