Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has serious structure problems, but is so lovingly made with visuals worth the price of admission.
Director: Luc Besson
Summary: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.
There is nothing worse than seeing an artist put everything on screen, take a ton of artistic risks, but know that the film ultimately does not work. This is the problem with Valerian, because it was so obviously loved when it was created.
This is one of the most visually stunning movies we’ve seen in year. There are a few things that don’t look too original, but overall there is a lot of new and interesting things to see here. Fans of Luc Besson‘s other work, The Fifth Element, will see the touches of the film in all aspects of the movie. It’s a good thing overall, and while this screening was not in 3D, this is a movie that would look stunning in 3D. That is probably worth the price of admission alone.
The other thing that makes this work, for the most part, is that you can feel the love that went into it. This is a week with two passion projects (Dunkirk being Christopher Nolan‘s passion project) and it shows in both films. These movies are meticulously crafted by directors with very specific visions. With Valerian, every scene could be framed and put on a wall. If there is a detail that Besson could have added, he did, and it shows. Besson didn’t just create a few worlds; it truly feels like he built a lived-in universe. Even the exposition dumps are fascinating, because we get one more detail about how this world works. Besson took risks with this production and it shows. He took everything he has and put it on screen, and if the visuals aren’t enough, then that is worth a ticket.
It’s just a shame that that everything is such a structural mess; while there is a clear beginning, middle, and end, everything just sort of stumbles around from plot point to plot point with no real direction.
We see full-scale planetary destruction, we see fetch quests, we see our heroes rescue each other, and you’ll know the bad guy five seconds after meeting him. Stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne have decent chemistry, but the script often feels like it’s only shoving them together because we know that’s what they are supposed to do. Rihanna is only there to perform a literal strip tease that goes on way too long and then act as a plot device.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is so visually beautiful and feels so lovingly crafted, but its structure problems keep it from being great. As it is, the movie is pretty good, even more so if you’re a fan of Besson’s work, and probably worth a look if you’re into high-concept science fiction. As for me, I’ll take an ultimately flawed passion project that takes risks and has artistic integrity over a run-of-the-mill, assembly line, focus-tested tripe that might look better on the surface, but takes no risks.
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