Look, I am going to level with you, this is one of the most unremarkable films based on the trailer. I didn’t go into this film hoping for much as I don’t know anything about it and the trailer didn’t suggest I should know anything about it. It’s another comic film, although unlike many of the other comic films I have reviewed for the site, this film is based on a French comic that I haven’t read yet, written by Pierre Christin Jean-Claude Mezieres. I was planning on reading the comic before I went to see the film, however,I didn’t really have the time since I was going to a music festival and trying to buy the hard covers that have just been released, capitalising on the film’s success are expensive. The complete collection is done in three hard back volumes and if you want to get them and actually have a physical book to read, you are going to spend £75.00 on Amazon alone, each volume is £25.00!! I’m not spending £75.00 for a comic from the sixties that, if it wasn’t for this film, would likely have been forgotten. If you want to get your Valerian fix, before seeing the film, my advice would be to go to comiXology. You can buy digital copies of the comic, and the volumes will range in price. You would only save £5.00 to £8.00 on the first volume, but you are going to be saving over £10.00 on the next two volumes, and believe me, when you are paying £75.00 for three hard back books, that is saving you a ton of money for the exact same content.
Luc Besson, when he created the Fifth Element did say that Valerian was a big influence on his work and since he is a big enough name now, he has the ability to do a straight up adaptation of Valerian. As I haven’t read the comics, I will be judging this film on its own merits. Now, I have talked in the past about Luc Besson and I have not been that kind to him, but I still stand by my opinions that in recent memory he really is a barely competent writer who seems to make very similar films over and over again and most of his best ideas are gone, and my theory is not being helped by the fact that this is an adaptation of a graphic novel that he already took inspiration from one of his previous films. But as much as I rag on the guy, he does have some talent: I still like District 9 and that was a film that got him nominated for several Oscars. The fifth element is a cyber film that still kind of holds up and as much as I don’t like the sequels, I will pop in the original of Taken anytime. I don’t go into a film hoping that someone I don’t like makes another bad film, I love to be surprised. So the question is, without my knowledge of the comic, did Luc Besson make a film that would be able to satisfy me?
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is set, I believe in the 2500’s, or something like that, honestly I kind of lost track of time. Basically, a space station outside of Earth has received tons of alien races that have helped expand on it, the problem is, the International Space Station is now heading into the Earth’s atmosphere. Considering how big it’s got and with all the technology that has been added to it, to such an extent, they now decide to leave Earth and explore the outer reaches in the name of diplomacy and it will be known as Alpha and the City of a Thousand Planets. Cut to 400 years later and after a mission, Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) heads to Alpha with the mission to see out a diplomatic process in regards to an artefact that was picked up on said mission, which turns out to be the last of its life form, a small creature that can create pearls. However, a humanoid race attacks the senate and kidnaps Commander Arun Fillitt, (played by Clive Owen). Valerian is troubled by the fact that he has been receiving psychic visions from this humanoid race and the destruction of their planet and he vows to investigate to find out what is going on and discover what the true meaning behind his visions are.
Valerian is really not a complicated plot, it’s just Valerian and his girlfriend, Sergeant Laureline, who is played by Cara Delevingne who you may remember playing Margot in Paper Towns and the Enchantress in the previously reviewed Suicide Squad. They are basically going from one place to another in an attempt to solve what is going on. I suspect this has been rather a loyal adaptation of the comic, however, I think in this instance, that is kind of a help and a hindrance. Now, I am speculating here, but the reason I suspect this is a loyal adaptation is there are a lot of detours in the plot. Finding the humanoids and the missing Commander is just one point in this film, but it is often detracted. There is one point where Valerian goes missing when he is in pursuit of the humanoids so Laureline has to figure out where he is and that results in her getting some information from these aliens who are basically rip-offs of the worms from Men in Black, or are the worms from Men in Black rip-offs from them, this is all a bit confusing and I really should have read the comic. This then results in them going to get a Jellyfish off the back of these creatures that live in the waters around there, because if you put head on them you can psychically see where someone is, but you have to take them off your head after a minute or they start to eat your memories. That’s just one sub-plot, one sub-plot that distracts from the main plot that takes place very soon towards the end of the fast act and it’s not the last of its kind. There’s a few of these. These all work fine in comics, because comics tend to be very long range series that have slow builds but with good pay offs. The problem is the pay-offs don’t really pay out so well in this film!
So, the sub-plots will often come in, interrupt the main plot for about twenty minutes and nothing is really accomplished and we go back to whatever the hell was going on in the first place! The most notable sub-plot is when Valerian is trying to get back a kidnapped Laureline from a group of aliens and needs to look like the aliens ought to break into a ceremony, which reminded me very heavily of the wedding sub-plot from Jupiter Ascending. The reason it’s the most notable, however, isn’t because it has something interesting to say, but its where it’s biggest extended cameos come from: mainly Ethan Hawke playing a pimp and Rhianna playing a shape shifter alien stripper. Yes, you heard me right. Believe me, that’s still not the weirdest thing in this film. All I will say though, is, don’t get used to them, they are extended cameos at best, which considering Rhianna’s acting ability, is saying a lot and she tries to get around it by playing a bad actress. You are not fooling anyone! I will say in her defence though, Rhianna’s dance number, while it is kind of a big lipped alligator moment, in, it comes out of nowhere, interrupts the plot for no reason and no one really mentions it much after it’s done, if ever, is at least one of the better parts of the film as it shows a lot of the amazing technical work and effects that went into the film and it’s scene has some brilliant editing.
This is the biggest problem with Valerian, however, the main plot is the one that is the most interesting and I use the word “interesting” with a pinch of salt, but I will get into my reasons for saying that later, and it’s half interrupted most of the time. You can get away with this in a comic because it builds time for the writer to really think out the plot. However, a film, has a much stronger flowing narrative. I get a sense that Luc Besson really likes the comic and didn’t want to change much. I have said that, however, on a presumptuous basis, having not been aware of the source material. I know a lot of people go into something thinking they are not making any changes and just doing the exact same story is the best way to do an adaptation, but I firmly disagree with that and I sometimes feel changes are necessary and can even improve on a story as long as they make sense and are executed well. What I am say is, I don’t like something just because it’s incredibly loyal, in fact sometimes over loyalty is actually a hindrance and I suspect in this case it has been a hindrance because the film has a real flow problem.
That being said, however, Valerian is quite an enjoyable movie. Maybe it’s because the film I saw on the same day of it soured me and I was able to cut that from the break, but you know what, it’s not that bad a film. Ok, it’s nothing great, it borrows from an endless number of sci-fi films and sci-fi fiction in general including a lot of the Star Wars films, Guardians of the Galaxy and to a certain extent, the video game Mass Effect, I am serious, this film really looks a lot like a Mass Effect game. Even some of the alien designs are freakishly similar and the androids that the Commander programmes at the beginning of the film look suspiciously like the Geth’s from Mass Effect. I am seriously now wondering if Valerian was a big inspiration for Bio Ware when they were creating the Mass Effect games.
Now the only visibly disloyal thing I could see from a brief glimpse of the comics are really superficial things. For example, while Dane DeHaan does look like his comic counter part, Laureline is supposed to be a redhead, I am guessing that Cara Delevingne didn’t want to dye her hair. Ok, so here’s the thing, it’s kind of an enjoyable film, for the most part, it has some good moments, I quite liked a lot of the action sequences and I liked the fact that Dane DeHaan is showing off a different side to himself, and while I think he is a great actor, he was getting into a lot of the samey roles.
Here’s the thing though, this plot is not subtle in the least. The film does have a big mystery around the visions, the humanoid aliens and the nature of what is going on in Atlas right now, but the mystery is so predictable! To such an extent, I was thinking it couldn’t be this simple and this easy, there had to be another edge to it that would take me by surprise. Nothing did! It was the exact plot and the exact same villain reveal that I was expecting and they give you no option to think that the main villain is a good guy, they practically spell it out from the start. I have deliberately not talked about the characters for that various reason, because doing so would mean I would have to spoil the entire plot. There’s not a lot of subtlety to it. Let’s just say, it’s a lot of messages we have heard before and heard since. I tell you what, if you want me to talk a lot about my big problem with the plot twists and the reveals, leave me a comment in the section below and I may do a spoiler Vlog for my thoughts on the film. However, it is still rather enjoyable. It’s still a rather fun sci-fi film, which I think a lot of Sci-fi films have forgotten to do in the hopes that they can be epic. But you know what, I wish the plot was a little less clichéd. I know this film was set in the 60’s and this film is based on an old comic and this comic was pre Star Wars and a lot of those clichés were only just being developed at the time, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s rather predictable. I think given the film’s message, if the comic is very similar, it was rather progressive for the time.
That’s Valerian’s biggest problem. The source material is out dated. I’m not saying it’s impossible to get something out of this, hell I would probably go and see a sequel , but we have seen a lot of Sci-fi like this, there is nothing very unique about it. I know I have gone on record several times to say that uniqueness doesn’t make it automatically good and being similar to something else automatically makes it bad, but if you are out to find something you haven’t watched before, you’re not getting it here. You are getting it decently done, but you are not getting anything new.
I have already been talking about the performances throughout this review, but I will just reiterate, I like Dane DeHaan in this role and Cara Delevingne, while not showing a lot of range at least I think she is better here than she has been in her previous roles. They are the only ones to really talk about, everyone else is pretty much superficial. There are some decent performances in the bunch but most people aren’t on screen very long. Ethan Hawke is alright, yucking it up as a pimp throughout the entire film and I got more of an effort from Rhianna in this role than her previous roles in Home and especially Battleship. Most of the actors who have to do motion capture at least suit it pretty well. The only one who seems to literally hone his performance in is Herby Hancock, playing a defence minister.
Ok, let’s talk about design effects. It’s an interesting looking world, I will give you that, but nothing we haven’t really seen before. The designs are pretty good, I liked a lot of the alien designs in this film. The costume department also deserves a lot of merit as well, these are some fantastic costumes. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack for the most part, the soundtrack is pretty good, minus a few duds in the mix! The biggest thing for me though is how much my ignorance of the source material only means I would constantly be saying “oh that’s clearly that from that” you already heard me doing it so many times throughout this review. That’s the one thing I disliked about Valerian the most, I just felt like I was watching a lot of greatest hits. What I most liked though is the fact that at least it was having a good time whilst doing it. The effects are very good and the action scenes complement them beautifully. Including one that is done in a brilliant “one take shot”, that would have required a lot of green screen effects and is well done. The problem is that the sequence is based on a former showing of how the Atlas worked. It takes several sides of the city and divides them into certain segments and they make these segments feel big, the problem is, we run through most of them in this entire sequence and that leads to leaving the City of a Thousand Planets feeling very small. Not something you really want when your movie is called The City of a Thousand Plantes.
I’ve been rambling a bit now!!. Let’s just summarise this. In summary, all I can say is, did you like the Fifth Element? If you said yes, you are probably going to like this one. I think there is something for Sci-fi nerds too. There is something here even if you haven’t read the comic, just don’t go in expecting a game changer here. The plot is pretty decent, if a bit clichéd and all over the place at times. The performances aren’t anything amazing apart from Dane DeHaan going really against character. However, I can certainly think of worse films to watch. It’s kind of fun, kind of quirky, it had some very well shot action scenes, and that rather surprised me considering that the last few Luc Besson action films have had terrible looking action scenes. That’s all I have really got on the film, it’s very much a middle of the road film for me, but you know what, I had a pretty good time watching it and I must be honest, it was better than I was expecting.
I HATED THIS MOVIE!!!
Thanks a lot for reading my review. I hoped you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and I am going to say this only once, The Emoji Movie cannot even be enjoyed ironically, do not spend your money going to see it, do not even pirate it, because it will further strengthen the resolve the studios have and will justify them going after critics on YouTube because they will feel some sense of justification and even then, no one should see this contest. It’s not funny, it’s just awful. Can you believe there was a bidding war to make this film, some people actually paid millions of dollars to get the right to make this piece of crap, or should I say this piece of Patrick Stewart!!!!!
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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