REVIEW: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

1-5-stars

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27 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

  1. You and I are so simpatico on this item is a little creepy. Every thing you mentioned as a drawback was a problem for me as well. The one positive you mentioned was the theme of my comments, all eye candy. I so wanted to enjoy it, instead I just tolerated it for 2 plus hours.

    • Man, I tried really hard. I wanted to like this. I have a pretty high tolerance for wacky science fiction. But my goodness this thing is a mess. I was astonished at some of it. Whew!

  2. This reads as if Valerian is exactly the movie I feared it was going to be. I’ll hopefully still catch it to give it a review when it hits Australia, but I’m not confident.

    • Oh man, it’s rough. I was a bit shocked at just how bad the dialogue was. And I challenge anyway to watch DeHaan and not hear Keanu Reeves from “Point Break”. This thing misses the mark in so many areas.

    • If you’re curious I would still recommend waiting for TV. Not sure how this thing went so far off the rails. I hate to use this adjective but aside from the visuals the whole thing feels cheap and half-baked. It’s a real grind making it through the atrocious dialogue, storytelling, etc etc etc etc. Ugh!

  3. It’s always awful when passion projects end up a mess. A real shame. On another note, can you see Cara’s film career continuing? She’s been in 2 big flops in a row now.

    • That’s a good question. I don’t know. She’s not very good here. At the same time she is given some really bad material. I’m not sure who could have pulled it off.

  4. This looked awful, but I do feel bad when passion projects tank. I kind of wanted it to succeed a little since I like DeHaan and it’s original sci fi.

    • I’ve never been big on DeHaan but wasn’t expecting this. He’s pretty terrible in this thing. Of course the script doesn’t help him at all. He’s no Han Solo regardless of how much the script wants him to be. Ugh!

  5. I am one of the lone voices who actually LIKED this movie quite a bit. I thought it was fun, and the visuals were so crazy and over the top that they worked. I’m not getting all the negative reactions to this one, but it seems like everybody I know absolutely HATES the movie. Go figure!

    • I just couldn’t get over several things. Never bought DeHaan in his role. Thought the story was mediocre at best and utterly predictable. Felt the dialogue was some of the worst I’ve seen. Several other things. But I do respect those who defend it. I’ve certainly stood by movies other people couldn’t stand.

      • I feel like I’m the only person defending it, but I don’t feel THAT strongly about it — but I am head over heels infatuated with the visuals. I mean, wow! They are so great that I think I’m able to overlook the many weaknesses (all of those things you just mentioned are absolutely valid). Matt actually thought the same thing about DeHaan, he didn’t think he was old enough to be a “ladykiller” agent. It didn’t bother me.

      • I think the visuals were spectacular in some places. The prologue especially stood out. But I’ll be honest, there were other times where it felt like overkill to me. As for DeHaan though…as I wrote, in my mind I kept Point Break Keanu Reeves every time he talked!

    • I can see why. Neither of the leads read any charisma or believability to their roles. I never bought them for a second. And I’m not sure what exactly DeHaan is channeling. Really weird performance.

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