Valerian – Movie Review

movie reviewHere we go with the most expensive european/independent movie project to date. A movie that did cost something like 200mio dollars (advertising not included) really needs to capture a good audience to make that kind of money back. You can rightfully say that Valerian did bomb at the US boxoffice. So its last chance are the other markets. Especially Europe and China. Of course this film will also be (or is) compared to Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. Which wasn’t exactly a boxoffice hit either. But at least has had a Bruce Willis or Gary Oldman to make people interested.

Valerian is (how could it be something else these days) made after a story from a comic – Valerian & Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières that started in 1967. If you are familiar with sci-fi movies between 67 and now… you can see how the comic kind of influenced everything that came after it. Especially Star Wars, with its look and characters as one prominent example. Valerian is about two young special agents, Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (played by Cara Delevingne). Both are part of the military and have to take care of the more complicated missions that tend to come up every now and then. I haven’t read the comics but from what I gathered it’s a giant mix of everything. From western to hard scifi. The definition ‘Space Opera’ comes to mind. Valerian Director Luc Besson read these as a child and was immediately hooked. When he later decided to make The Fifth Element, we can clearly see that the comics did have some influence on him. Also because french comic artists worked on the concept art for it. He even got asked why he does that Fifth Element movie when he should do his version of Valerian. Valerian, as envisioned by Besson, just wasn’t technically possible at the time. So he waited for the computer technology to catch up.

The film starts with a wonderful and well done intro that explains how the ‘City Of A Thousand Planets’ came into existence. We go through hundreds of years and see the city grow from what can be described as the the ISS to a gigantic structure inhabiting 30 million people of all kinds of races and species. Everyone peacefully living side by side. The situation in this place can best be described as controlled chaos. And it seems to work. Which is cool and sends the right message. The city is now named Alpha.

Then we get another intro that makes us familiar with the planet Mül and its natives. This planet can best be described as paradise. I would love to visit that place… even though I know I would never be able to afford it. Still! Beautiful beaches and fantastic vistas. The folks living there could brothers and sisters from the NaVi species we know from Avatar. Not blue but skinny and tall. Kind of what I imagine humans look like at the end of the book The Forever War. We see them enjoy life and go by their business when suddenly explosions happen and things drop from the sky. Obviously there is a battle happening in orbit and debris is crashing on the planet. How these creatures don’t get wind of the battle going on above their heads is a little beyond me. You can see stars and planets on the horizon but not that giant battle? A huge ship gets hit and crashes onto the planet surface which starts a gigantic shockwave that kills everything. Among the victims is a princess of the natives. Except a couple of the people who were lucky to have found shelter in one of the previously crashed ships. When that princess dies she explodes into some kind of memory beam, traveling through space and looking for the right being to catch it up. That beam finds Valerian and deems him worthy to carry the memory of that planet, its native culture and what happened.

After these two intros we meet Valerian and Laureline fooling around on, what seems to be, a holodeck. Valerian gets up, looks a little confused. But I didn’t get the indication what, what we saw of Mül, was a vision he had. 5 minutes later we learn that he has had a weird dream. However, we immediately learn what these two are about and it never really stops throughout the film. We are constantly reminded that Valerian loves Laureline and wants convince her that he’s not the douchebag womanizer from the past anymore. He’s got only eyes for her. She of course doesn’t really buy it. Even though she does like him quite a bit. Now we have seen this kind of relationship before in (can you guess it?)… Star Wars. Han Solo and Leia Organa. I wouldn’t be surprised if George Lucas didn’t model his two characters after the Valerian comics. There is a big difference though. At least when it comes to the movies. The chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher was spot on and worked from the get go. When looking at Empire Strikes Back, where the romance gets in full gear, we have the best example of how to work the romance into the film. It’s cute, funny and makes us care about Han and Leia even more. The way the romance plays out in the Valerian movie is very awkward. DeHaan and Delevingne to me have no chemistry at all. Although you can see that both of them try their best to make it work. However, by the end of the film I did not care more about these two than 120 minutes earlier. While I think Dane DeHaan did a better job, the other folks I saw the film with claimed that Cara Delevingne did a better job and found DeHaan weaker. It’s also save to say that both of them just looked too young. Almost like fresh out of high school. She more than him. And we have to take them as highly qualified space ranger soldier type people. It just didn’t really work. Both of them are sent on a mission to retrieve a creature from a gigantic (Virtual/Augmented Reality?) market place. Here we get a glimpse of the visual power of this film. And it’s fair to say that it’s amazing to look at. Creativity that is missing in so many other formulaic movies these days. They go all in and it pays off. When it comes to the story it’s the start of a “I save you and you save me” chain that we’ll see throughout the film. While it does drive the plot forward it becomes a little much after a while. The creativity saves the movie in these parts. They manage to ‘steal’ the creature and leave behind a frustrated bad gangster boss that surely was supposed to get back in a sequel (which we’ll probably never get). Now after a little more than 30 minutes we finally get to Alpha… or the City of a thousand Planets.

There is a lot of exposition talk in this movie. Of course there is a lot to explain about the world but it wouldn’t have hurt to just drop some of the stuff explained there. Most of it we don’t need for this film. But again, the movie wants to set up a whole universe and potential sequels. Once in the city we learn more about how the different species have organized and how the military works. We also learn that the creature we just captured plays a larger role in the upcoming plot. But before that we learn that the city has a problem. There is an area in its core that becomes increasingly radiated and a danger to the rest of the city. And that is where the movie leads us. An investigation of what is going on there. So the film transforms into some sort of detective story. In the end we get explained how everything we saw in the past two hours comes together and resolves the mystery. Just in case you missed the plot going on with all the eyecandy burning out your eye holes.

Now let’s talk the good stuff. As mentioned before the film (much like The Fifth Element) is a great source of inspiration. There is rarely a scifi movie that comes with more creativity in its look and design. The collection of creature designs alone is insane. And some of them we just see for a second. Still, they’re fully animated and detailed and there went some care into all of them. So visually this movie is amazing. The planet Mül is beautiful and its people/natives are really interesting. I would even go as far as saying that a movie about these people and their struggle to survive would have been a more interesting movie than the one we got. The glimpse we get from this world they created there really makes me want to like this film more. The direction of the action sequences also works pretty good. Just the right amount of kinetic energy without crossing the overkill line. A good balance in my opinion. Unfortunately it’s only the visuals and action sequences that really work. At least the main concept artists got a very early credit at the end. Well deserved and only fair. One of them even liked some of my own work in the past! Yay!

Now the bad stuff. Beside our two main characters we have some more played by Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke and Rihanna. The only ‘name’ actors in this film. Although I wouldn’t categorize Rihanna as an ‘actress’. At least Owen and Hawke do not get much to do. Which is a shame! Talking about Rihanna. Adding her was an insane decision if you ask me. Not because she can’t act particularly well. But because the scene they implemented her for grinds the movie to a complete halt for 15 minutes! It ruins the whole pacing of the film for a strip/dance number of hers. Completely unnecessary. Her character is 90% a CG character and I understand that we need this character to move the plot along. But it really didn’t require that dance number just to show off that you got Rihanna in your film. Which, in all honesty, nobody cares about to begin with! The dance number is cool and well done… but for the film it’s completely counterproductive and useless. Throw her out and shorten that part. Next we have the dialogue. Some of it reminded me of scenes between Anakin and Padme in Star Wars Episode 2. So wooden! Along with the dialogue we have the humor. And there are a lot of ‘supposedly’ funny scenes in this film. I rarely heard anyone laugh when I saw the film. 80% of the jokes completely backfired. I felt bad for the film. So what it comes down to is a bad script and bad writing. Almost every scene of dialogue felt staged and artificial. But hey, it’s a film that is 80% CGI… of course it feels artificial. So yeah, why not making this film completely CGI to begin with? That’s what I wondered throughout the film. Especially since the live-action elements do not implement with the CGI stuff too seamlessly in some parts of the film. Room for improvements. An example of the bad writing is that I cannot remember who the humans fought in the beginning next to Mül. I don’t even know if they actually mention what this battle was about. And this battle is the reason for the plot in this film. We know nothing about it. Or I simply missed it. Which doesn’t speak for the film either.

It’s a giant space opera… so… “How is the music?” you ask? Well, I don’t know. I can’t remember a single piece of music from this film. Except David Bowie at the beginning intro. A space opera like this needs a striking musical soundtrack! But there’s nothing! Some argue that the only good musical soundtrack is the one that seamlessly melts with the film and you don’t hear while it plays out. But no, that’s stupid. A movie like this needs memorable musical themes. But there’s nothing in it. Again, a shame.

For me as a scifi artist I look at this film and say, “Yep, that’s it. We officially have crossed the line where there really isn’t anything new left to do. It’s all been done. Whatever idea I come up with… it’s probably been done by someone else before me already.”. Yes, this film is definitely a fantastic source of inspiration for people like me. But if you want a good story with likeable characters… nope. I must admit that I was not a big fan of Besson’s Fifth Element movie when it came out and over time I learned to respect it and even like it. I don’t see this happen with Valerian. Which makes me sad. There is a lot of good stuff in here. It’s not entirely wasted but it’s not used properly either.

A 6.5/10 for me.

Valerian on IMDb

2 Responses to “Valerian – Movie Review”

  1. Eugenio Santiago Says:

    You are a prisoner of mainstream. Valerian is not like most movies. I´m sorry for you.

  2. Tigaer Says:

    This movie wants so desperately to be mainstream. Why would it cast people like Cara Develingne or Rihanna, when there are so many more capable young actresses out there. So yes, I’m judging it by looking at it at a mainstream way. =)

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