The film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Worlds is based on the acclaimed French space opera comic Valerian and Laureline, and was directed by Luc Besson, director of The Fifth Element. It is the most expensive non-American film ever made as it was funded personally by Besson, and through crowdfunding efforts in Europe and abroad.
1. So. Much. CGI.
There is massive amount of CGI in this film. In some places it is fine, but in others, it is just flat. There are scenes where you can tell the actors had nothing to work with other than each other, and the acting and associated dialog feel as awkward and wooden as anything out of the Star Wars prequels. The ships and space scenes look fine, but everything else feels patently fake and shiny. Even in scenes where even some rudimentary practical effects would have been easy are obviously faked, except for the tata style school bus from the initial scene with Val and Laur working to recover the dingus. It was so obviously and deliberately the inside of a school bus that it was jarring. I am a big fan of practical effects, and movies like Valerian demonstrate why.
Fix - practical effects, they look better and are more believable. Also, a small amount of practical can be CGI'ed into a larger scene, giving epic scale on screen and actors something to work with. Mad Max: Fury Road used both practical and CGI to great effect.
2. A Complete and Total Lack of Chemistry
Dane DeHaan (Valerian) and Cara Delevingne (Laureline) have a negative relative chemistry score despite being somehow perplexingly engaged, or something. Anakin and Padme had a more nuanced relationship. DeHaan's Valerian is supposed to be a cool badass guy who was seen more sexual activity than a porn website but comes across as a fake badass like Steven Seagal in any of his later movies.Delevingne's Laureline is a brass tacks tough as nails femme fatale and carries that role much better than DeHaan. Their relationship is more forced than a 17 year old boy's Black Widow/Power Girl slashfic. The ending hook up is contrived and forced and it denigrates Laureline to the traditional Trophy Status female character that the bland hero boy wins through learning the moral lesson and repeatedly forcing himself onto her.
Fix - Dont try to pass off boy-faced DeHaan like he is a grizzled tried and true intersteller uber badass. Also, don't force Delevingne into a contrived fake relationship where it is obvious she/her character don't respect their male counterpart. I would rather have a badass woman not be hamstrung with a shitty love angle. Likewise, Valerian is as nuanced and deep as Rey Keno-skywalker-Mary Sue.
3. Literally Nothing You Havent Seen Before
Painfully, but there is nothing new, groundbreaking, innovating, or bleeding cool in Valerian. It feel derivative of dozens of movies you've already seen. The ships are very well done, but not inspiring. Lots of space bricks chasing angular space bricks, and the general design aesthetic fails. Mul and it's demi-aquatic aliens are painfully similar to the Na'vi of Avatar, hypercolored and full body CGI. Their demeanor and 'noble savage' demeanor is trope. There are very few innovative aliens, and despite a very large number of them being shown, there is almost no depth to them. Their space armor, again, it is nothing shiny or innovative, just another badass hardsuit with a helmet hook up.
Fix - Give Alpha, the City of a Thousand Worlds a retro vibe, make it feel more built up, abandoned, and run down than the world of Bladerunner instead of making it slick as an Apple product launch of an MMORPG. Instead of evoking a feeling similar to Babylon 5 (which plays the same core concept) or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (very similar concept) it's just generic.
4. Recursive Failure
The story of Valerian starts 30 years prior to the main story, with the destruction of Mul, the ocean paradise of almost but not quite Na'vi aliens. The story loops back around to reveal that that big bads who destroyed Mul was spoiler alert, humanity. The entire arc of the story is a dingus chase for the Mul Converter (which looks more like a pangolin than a converter) by the pragmatically evil human high brass, the Mul 'Pearl' survivors, and everyone else, and no one really knows what is going on. This is rather nonsensical because it is a xanatos gambit where no one is really rolling the dice. The reveals feel slightly less staged than the romance between Valerian and Laureline.
Fix - a narrative arc that defines the linear flow of events, or a better telling of the recursive arc with maybe a character who knows what is going on, a clearly defined villain perhaps.
5. Lack of a Villain
There isn't a villain. There are bad guys who do bad things, and there are people who've done bad things, but there isnt a single card carrying destroy the world bad guy. The Pearls just want their stuff back so they can remake their world. The human brass were fighting a loosing battle against an unnamed foe and activated an uber-weapon to win the battle. Mul was devastated by ships falling out of orbit. The various 'villains' of the movie are just unscrupulous aliens, warlords, crime bosses, and otherwise underworld figures. No one is really villainous.
Fix - Maybe the movie should have had a legit bad guy who was orchestrating everything, rather than just a serious of unfortunate events.
6. Excess Exposition
The movie is in many places mired down by long winded and unneeded periods of exposition and information dumps. When Val and Laurie return to Alpha after their mission, they ask the state of the station and there is a long CGI filled exposition where the computer drones about the four quarters of the station, the economy, the residents and population figures, and a bit about the station economy being in shambles. This takes what feels like an excessive amount of time, and really doesn't add anything to the flow of the story, and for me, it was annoying. There are other segments where large amounts of unimportant information is dumped into the story and it really drags length of the movie out.
Brevity is the soul of wit. The aquatic parts of the station have no impact on the story, other than Valerian smashing through them like a bullet. The transdimensional market was a neat addition, but there was too much time spent explaining how it worked, when ultimately it's like a toilet or a car, it doesnt matter how it works, as long as it does, and it is internally consistent.
7. It's Beautiful
All the complaints aside, the movie is beautiful to watch. The CGI is pretty, the aliens are pretty, the ships are pretty.
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Honestly, I feel like Luc Besson did run out of Juice, with Lucy and now this.
I haven't seen this because of bad reviews. I did see the intro on YouTube, and found it to be quite lovely. Too bad it was wasted on a snoozer of a movie.
I guess if I want to watch Luc Besson, I'll just play my Fifth Element DVD for the millionth time.
I just did not like Dane DeHaan in this at all. Way too boyish, acting was meh, and the love interest in Cara Delevingne was so superficial it broke the immersion completely almost every single time Dane and Cara had a scene together.
Visually it was slightly better than okay. I found the space battle and ship chase in Alpha to be the best bits visually. Rihanna's blue blob shapeshifter thing was meh.
A little caveat I enjoyed was Ethan Hawke's cameo.
Rihanna was wasted potential with Bubbles the Pleasure Pod, there was so much potential as she touched on illegal immigration, even potential for genderfluidity, and she was a post it note for Valerian to be approachable and vulnerable so Laureline would like him.