This one’s worth skipping.

A shallow treat; pretty but messy.

Here’s what you need to understand before we start: No. This film is not necessarily a rip-off of Blade RunnerGuardians of the Galaxy, The Fifth ElementJupiter Ascending (an actual multi-picture rip-off), Avatar (as I was saying) or any of the Star Wars films. Instead, it is based on the Belgian series of comic books that influenced all of those movies either directly or indirectly, and meant more to the genres of science fiction and space opera than most people realize. You know, just so we’re clear.

Valerian and Laureline (or Linda and Valentin if you’re like me).

The most obvious films to be inspired by the Valerian et Laureline franchise are Return of the Jedi and even more so Luc Besson‘s delightfully eccentric The Fifth Element. Therefore, he would seem a perfect fit for the task of making an actual adaptation of the iconic novels that few sci-fi fans even seem to know are iconic.

Thus we have Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, directed by Besson (co-produced by his wife) and starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as the two space-exploring leads who may or may not fall in love; one of them stern and competent, the other a reckless young man who fancies himself a hero. I don’t know too much about the source material, but as my comic-savvy companions noted after the screening, it may not be the adaptation the fans wanted after all. As a movie on its own, it isn’t too great either.

I have rarely seen a film quite so disinterested in its own main story. Most of what we see is filler material in the form of Valerian and Laureline getting lost inside the titanic city of the title: space station Alpha, the result of ships and civilizations from all across the galaxy coming together to share knowledge and cultures. The present mission of our heroes is to confront a “great evil” that threatens the space station yet may not be the “great evil” some of their superiors claim it is.

I was fascinated by how few scenes during especially the second act are actually about this. Even when the film does focus on its supposed central plot, Valerian is too occupied with rushed world-building and breathtaking visuals for anything to sink in; what everything is, how everything works, and why certain items need to go to certain places.

Make no mistake; the visual aspect of this film, with its stellar effects and dazzling designs of both costumes and sets, is nothing less than first-rate, but it is ultimately a shallow experience. It is in terms of characterization and story that the movie falls short (the way it introduced the protagonists, it felt like a sequel in a franchise where we’d already gotten to know them, particularly the bits where it teased the idea of the two getting married) and it never truly creates an emotional connection with its audience. When Valerian uses his super-powered space suit to crash through the different components of Alpha and we’re surely meant to be amazed by the images, all I could think about was how he damaged the hull of the section for the water creatures, who will probably lose their means of breathing very soon.

I won’t only speak for myself, though. There were kids on the row ahead of me; one of them fell asleep and his sister had no discernible reaction outside of whispering to her friend when Rihanna finally appeared as an exotic dancer with transmutative properties (I’ve come to understand that Rihanna is one of those people we’re meant to admire just for existing). Had we attended a 3D screening, however, there may have been stronger responses.

The music is rather bland too but I do have positive thoughts on the acting. I agree with veteran fans that Dane DeHaan’s “loveable doofus” needed more “loveable” (and a stronger chin) but Delevingne played her role of the more serious companion well (I understand she looks the part too). The supporting actors – Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Alain Chabat, and even Rihanna – all range from good to okay. Sadly, none of it is enough to save the mess at hand.

My parents were both huge fans of these comics when they were released in Sweden under the Linda & Valentin title, but I myself never read them in full – even though dad’s near-complete collection is still intact. When he heard Besson was doing the adaptation, he reacted the same way I did when I learned that Spielberg was doing Tintin. It’s too bad it didn’t quite work out, despite Besson’s purported passion for the project.

From what I could gather, it seems that Besson either got too much creative freedom and changed things that ain’t broke, or he was compelled to make something more appealing to a mainstream sci-fi crowd by removing the images that made the original books so unique. I do know that the Alpha space station is meant to look as if each region is truly the product of its own world. When seen from a distance in the film, it all melts together into more generic imagery.

It is hard to say for sure what went wrong. After all, some critics argue that, rather than being too similar to the many works influenced by its source, Valerian aspired to be TOO original and was insufficiently cookie-cutter for mainstream audiences to be interested. Basically, then, it was too different to make money and too familiar to stand out, which might have been fine if it was more like the comics and the only people who thought it looked like a knock-off simply didn’t know their history.

 

2.5/5 whatever

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