Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review: Valerian and the City Of A Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City Of A Thousand Planets (2D)
Cert: 12A / 137 mins / Dir. Luc Besson / Trailer

The auditorium wasn't particularly full, given that the film in question (a moderately 'big' movie) was being released on a rainy Wednesday in the middle of a particularly busy blockbuster-season. Nevertheless, in all my years of cinema-going I have never before witnessed so many people go to the toilet during a performance, so utterly unconcerned were they with missing some vital element of the plot. Let us not drive around the houses here, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is bad. I barely even have the strength to be bitter about losing two and a half hours of my life to this, but for you dear reader, I shall try...

Quite often, the second paragraph of my review would be used to hold a brief synopsis or plot-premise. In the case of Valerian, I have no idea. Really. There's an opening montage showing mankind's future progress into space and successive diplomatic introductions to several developed alien species, and after some sledgehammer-exposition from Rutger Hauer, the story-proper begins. I think. Something like Avatar, but set on a beach and featuring small CGI armadillos that shit pearls into a well. Meanwhile, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne play two humans who look less convincing than the animated aliens and fail to flirt (indeed, act*1) for over two hours, while Sam Spruell and Clive Owen pull that 'I've made a terrible mistake' expression in lieu of emoting alongside their lines. The five minute pole-dancing scene featuring Rihanna isn't even the worst part of the film, although it's as inexplicable as everything else.

So from the meandering gibberish of the poorly-established narrative, through the horrifyingly executed 'Han/Leia' dynamic of Valerian and Laureline, the piss-weak performances of inconsequential supporting characters, and to the desperate attempts to bed the property in as the cornerstone of a cinematic franchise, there is no aspect of this film which does not anger, baffle or disappoint. Valerian owes so much to The Phantom Menace that it's had to take out a loan from John Carter just to keep up the repayments*2. Even the countless other sci-fi flicks which exist solely as regurgitators of clichés and genre-tropes usually do so with more narrative coherence than this.

The final presentation is full of moments you know were fantastic in the mind of Luc Besson. So it's a shame really that as both screenwriter and director*3, he completely failed to translate any of that to the screen. Judging by the way the dialogue clatters off the tongues of the performers, I suspect Luc typed the script in his native French and then just ran it through Google Translate for the cast to read. I'm not sure what's more excruciating, when the film tries to be funny and cool, or those moments when it thinks it actually has some message to impart. The third act features an outstandingly distracting diatribe about the effects of economic anxiety and protectionist politics, which in any other contemporary movie could be seen as a quasi-satirical statement on the real world. Here however, it comes off as a cack-handed attempt to convince the audience that they haven't just spent the last two hours watching Besson's computer-animated cheese dream*4.

I suppose if you could credit Valerian with anything, it would be the visuals on display. It's all 'pretty', but in that way where everything's been over-designed to the point where each new scene gives you a different level of headache. The film looks like a teenager won the Euromillions and blew the lot on making a Jupiter Ascending fan-film.

Luc Besson goes from strength to strength, finding new and inventive ways of annoying me. That should be applauded, at least.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Stabbing your own eyes for fun.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard, but I spent a lot of the film shouting under my breath.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Well, this movie features R&B fembot Rihanna, who was also in the execrable Battleship alongside Liam 'Qui-Gon' Neeson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Dane DeHaan spends this entire movie acting as if he passed the audition doing an impersonation of Keanu Reeves. I wish I was joking. The stupid thing is, I like Dane DeHaan. I like Cara Delevingne. I have no idea what's happened here. No wait it's Luc Besson, isn't it?.. [ BACK ]

*2 And remember, I say this as someone who loves both The Phantom Menace and John Carter. Yeah, I'm that guy. [ BACK ]

*3 No, I haven’t read the comics that this is based on. Besson has made a film so that I don’t have to. Allegedly. [ BACK ]

*4 I've written far more words here than I intended, but I cannot slate this film emphatically enough. It's a horribly ironic state of affairs when the only way to truly appreciate how awful Valerian actually is would be to watch it on a big screen, yet at the same time I cannot condone that in any way, shape or form. Please take my word for it. Apart from anything else, I don't want the film to make the money which would encourage any manner of sequel or expansion. Even if you've got one of those subscription type-cards and it doesn't cost you any more to sit and watch the movie, there'll still be some manner of transaction between the cinema owner, the distributor and the studio. Luc Besson doesn't care if you enjoy this film or not, he just wants the figures to show that you've seen it. Please do not humour him. It is worse than Transformers: The Last Knight, and I do not say that lightly. At least with that movie I could enjoy taking the piss out of it, Valerian doesn't even deserve that energy... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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