If you have even an ounce of sympathy in your bones you have to feel for Luc Beeson. Without question “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” was a passion project. The film’s $200 million-ish budget was crowd-sourced and personally footed by Beeson making it not only the most expensive European film, but the most expensive independent movie ever made. That’s one reason the early box office results seem so catastrophic.
But it goes beyond that. Beeson writes, directs, and co-produces with his wife Virginie Besson-Silla. That only adds to the sting because there are no two ways around it – “Valerian” is a really bad movie.
Let’s be honest, there were warning signs everywhere yet I was hoping for a “John Carter” experience. You remember it – terrible trailers, shredded by critics, but much better than the bad press it received. That’s not the case with “Valerian”. Instead we get a nearly 140 minutes slog through poor storytelling, boring characters, laughably bad dialogue, and CGI overload.
The story is based on the French comic book series “Valérian and Laureline”. I’ve never heard of it but apparently Beeson’s interest in adapting it dates all the way back to the filming of “The Fifth Element”. But despite the enthusiasm and ambition, “Valerian” stumbles all the way through its grueling run time and no amount of money thrown at it can save it from its glaring problems.
Let’s start with the performances. Dane DeHaan is a peculiar choice for the lead character Valerian. We are tasked with buying into him as a major(!) in the human police force on Alpha (aka the City of a Thousand Planets). The story desperately wants him to be a Han Solo-like bad boy. Look no further than an early scene where his dialogue all but pleads with the audience to believe it. And as much as he and the script tries to manufacture charisma, we never get it. I’m not certain what he’s going for, but his line delivery constantly reminded me Keanu Reeves from “Point Break”. It’s not like he gets much helps. A steady flow of mind-numbing one-liners should earn plenty of unavoidable face-palms.
His partner on the force is Laureline played by Cara Delevingne. Her stiffness is meant to be toughness but is only believable in small spurts. Her relationship with Valerian is weighted by a stale and uninspired sexual tension that is far more silly than romantic. And much like her counterpart, Delevingne is given some truly horrible dialogue. It’s astonishing that many of these lines actually made the page much less left it!
Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) orders Valerian and Laureline to investigate a alien force gathered at Alpha’s core. The beings are potentially linked to the film’s quirky yet interesting prologue. Unfortunately it all plays out with practically no suspense and with one of the most glaringly obvious reveals I’ve seen in a while. Along the way we are inundated with corny banter, heavy-handed social/political metaphors, and an assortment of weird encounters including a pearl-pooping miniature anteater, a shapeshifting exotic dancer, and Ethan Hawke playing someone named (and this is no joke) Jolly the Pimp. Okay, so that last one was good campy fun.
That brings us to the special effects which “Valerian” leans heavily on. It’s essentially a sugar rush for the eyes that ranges from spectacular to downright gaudy. Ultimately it’s not enough to cover the abounding messiness. “Valerian” seems to be shooting for an Avatar-like experience. It’s story is worse (and Avatar’s wasn’t good) while the visuals (Avatar’s saving grace) only occasionally ‘wow’. Once again it’s a real shame. When you put up a $200 million target you certainly don’t want to miss it this badly.
VERDICT – 1.5 STAR