Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Valerian is quite possibly one of the most fascinating films I've had the pleasure of seeing this year. Is it great? No. But it's entertaining science fiction done in a way that is rarely ever done, by a gifted filmmaker who's hit-or-miss decades-long career has been largely miss for most of us. Valerian is a slight exception though, as it falls right in the middle of being either bad or great. It's good, with enough going for it that you should absolutely go see this in the theater before it's too late, as a home viewing, no matter if it's in HD, 4K or how big your television screen is, just will not do it justice. This is the kind of film that needs to be experienced, not just seen.
Valerian is a visual feast for the eyes. There's so much magic happening visually that it's hard to take it all in at once, even in the moments where the film slows down (and there are many), the insane amount of detail and kaleidoscope of colors will keep your eyes glued to the screen as your brain tries to process it all. And if there's anything that Valerian will be known for, it's for it's eye candy, courtesy of writer/producer/director Luc Besson. There are moments where Valerian feels comfortably familiar, where Besson gives a sort of faint hint at the magic he created in The Fifth Element, and for brief periods of time you get excited. But these moments are few and far between, because like most filmmakers who have been continuously working for the last 30-40 years, their styles and techniques tend to change, and Besson is no different. Thankfully, he still shoots it fun and it's a beauty to see. It's just Besson working on a whole new level (almost entirely CGI and motion-capture), and it doesn't always deliver. And it's because of this that there always seems to be something lacking, like every action sequence and any bit of excitement just does not pack the kind of visceral punch you would expect, always leaving you a bit underwhelmed. While all the CCI allows Besson to explore things he couldn't before using traditional methods, it also takes away what made his classics so special in the first place, when he had to shoot on film, using practical effects, makeup and sets. But you know, it's a fun movie regardless, despite the fact that critics and reviews are trying to convince you that it's dull and boring, because it absolutely is NOT. There's just too much eye candy happening for that to happen.
For all it's visual beauty, Valerian suffers from a number of problems that keep it from being awesome. For starters, it's terribly miscast. I for one can't stand the lead actress Cara Delevingne. I don't know what it is, but I just don't like her. She comes across as a completely unlikable person in real life, and it's hard to get past that when I see her on screen. And while I think Dane DeHaan is a fine actor, he's just completely wrong as the lead, who's supposed to be a handsome, confident, conceded ladies man. And it hurts the entire feel of the film when these 2 leads, who spend nearly every scene together, just have no chemistry. Not that casting actors bigger, more recognizable and more attractive would have made the film any better, because it wouldn't have. But it would have made their characters more believable as they were written.
Secondly, the film is too confusing and epic for it's own good, starting with the title. After having finally watched it, the title Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets doesn't accurately fit the film. And there's so much information being thrown at you at lightning fast speed that it's impossible to understand just what the hell is going on for large periods of time, on top of the fact that important details are kept hidden until the end, but by that point so much has already happened that it's hard to keep track of every single plot point, so you've already forgotten about things that happened earlier in the film. It almost seems as if this easily could have been divided into 2 or 3 different films, which would have allowed them to flesh out storylines and character development, which might have helped it's overall flow.
If there is anything Valerian will be compared to it will be Avatar, and honestly, that's not a bad thing at all. It won't go down as one of Luc Besson's best, but it's definitely not one of his worst either. While I personally prefer Besson's older style, a la everything he did in the 80's and 90's, it also demonstrates his gift of working with CGI, and I'll admit, he handled it better than most directors today who have been dealing with it for years. He knows the importance of perspective (in regards to distance between the camera and something far away in the background), and does his best at making things look natural in the far background, which most filmmakers forget to do and it drive's me nuts.
I will mention though that this film did contain one really solid surprise, and that's Rhianna's performance. Sure she ends up being a minor character in the film overall, but believe it or not, she did an outstanding job and surprised the hell out of me in her limited screen time. Of all the actors, even the surprise cameo's, she's the one that left the biggest impression, and that's coming from someone who doesn't really care for her. She kind of blew me away in this.
I would highly recommend seeing this on the big screen as soon as you can. It doesn't matter if it's in normal digital, XD or 3D, but trust me, you just won't get the same experience watching it at home, no matter how impressive your setup is. But you better do it soon, because it's not making any money here in the states and will likely disappear within a week or two.