In Theaters: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

PG-13, 137 minutes, Sci-fi

StarringDane DeHaanCara DelevingneClive OwenSam Spruell

I’ve been looking forward to this movie all year. I don’t even remember when the trailer came out for it, but I had been saving my pennies ever since. My eyes practically bulged out of my head. Science fiction! Fantastic worlds! Luc Besson! W-w-wait–LuC BEssON is MAkIng aNoTHer ScI-FI mOVie????1 I’VE GOT TO SEE THIS!!! After the utterly awe-inspiring impact that The Fifth Element has left upon my soul, I just HAD to see Valerian on the big screen before it was too late.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is not only a crack-filling mouthful of a title, but it adds just enough curiosity to this movie to make you run out into the streets and yell, “WHAT?” The story follows agents Valerian and Laureline as they enter the city of Alpha in order to investigate an uninhabitable zone that threatens the stability of all life on the interplanetary vessel. The only thing standing in their way is the entire galaxy. No big deal.

I hadn’t even heard of the source material before: a French comic series that ran for over forty years. Apparently, I need to read more French comics (I’m looking at you, Snowpiercer). But the two real reasons my very soul cried out for my eyes and ears to digest this film were sci-fi and Besson. I couldn’t help myself. I mean–THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

I sprung for 3-D. I admit it, I’m a hypocrite as I absolutely HATE the 3-D trend. But just look at that trailer! Can you really blame me? Can any sci-fi fan REALLY put fault upon me? Was it worth it? The extra cost and the mind-numbing disorientation that the 3-D movie scarfully (that’s a word! …now) inflicted upon my brain jelly? Well… no. Don’t get me wrong: I did enjoy the movie, but it was just an okay movie. And despite the epic scenery, the movie was not shot in a manner that accentuated the screen popping effects.

The film itself was unfortunately dark. Despite a scene shot in a bright desert, the movie as a whole is set in the darkness of space, the alleys of a major city, and the underworld. Perhaps it was just my eyes, but this really screwed up the 3-D experience as I felt more like I was watching a high definition VHS tape with tracking issues. I’m not going to fault the movie for this, but I am going to seriously warn you away from the extra cost. This movie in 3-D simply isn’t worth your money.

What I did like was the sense that a vast array of cultures existed inside of Alpha. After forty years of comics, there’d darn well better be some depth to the setting. Unfortunately, despite all the visual set-up, only a couple of these cultures were touched upon. I got the feeling that everyone involved behind the scenes felt obligated to pay homage to the source material. Notable, but not entirely practical to the confines of a single movie.

The defining moment to this story has to be the struggle of the alien race that starts off the whole conflict. They’re unique and peaceful and seeing tragedy befall them really pulled my heartstrings. The open sequence involving these people really made me happy to be watching this movie. Sadly, it was the highlight of the story as I began to notice some… shockingly familiar storyline.

LUC, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? Look, I’m not calling this a stinker, but there comes a time when you write a story and you realize it’s the same friggin’ thing you wrote twenty years ago. Luc, I’m looking at you. You know what you’ve done! This is The Fifth Element. You know, that movie you did about space stuff? If you had paid homage to it by putting a Mangalore or a Zorg logo in the background, I would have publicly guffawed. But there are just too many parallels to ignore: the world ending, the military police, everything that looks like New York in 2263, the blue diva, the kissing sequence at the end–ARGH! I mean, how do you have forty years of comics and you set out to remake your own movie? Oh, no. Wait a second here, was Valerian and Laureline the inspiration for The Fifth Element? DON’T DO THIS ME, LUC!

The one things I really wanted from this movie was the characters. I’m sorry, folks, but since I had such high expectations for this film simply because I am a massive Fifth Element fan, I have to compare the two. In The Fifth Element everyone fulfills their quirky and memorable role to a T–right down to the friggin’ cat! But a lot of the characters in Valerian were basically just cardboard cutouts. And Bubble was uselessly unique–just watch and you’re find out what I mean. I found her to be the most frustrating character of all.

I will confess that I could not stop myself–for days–from laughing at Laureline’s changing scene. She is held prisoner by a barbaric race that insists she dress up. Stubbornly, she refuses, but her caretaker cannot be dissuaded. Hilariously, she encourages Laureline to continue. If you don’t laugh at this scene, I daresay you haven’t got a funny bone in your entire body. So as far as memorable characters go, at least I got one.

On an off note: the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline struck me as… odd. From early on, Valerian proposes the idea of marriage to Laureline, but she dodges around his advances. That itself wasn’t odd, but the proposal was. What is wrong with me? Since when should the idea of marriage strike me as out of the ordinary. You know what? Screw you, modern society. Quit raping normal values already.

With the decade-long surge in the popularity of comic book films it was inevitable that all kinds of stories would make it to the big screen. But whereas Marvel is succeeding, other companies struggle. The French market appears no different. While this wasn’t a bad movie, it did have its share of flaws. I can tell you right now that this probably would have been success if it had premiered as a quirky streaming series, but unfortunately the box office outlook is nothing short of grim.

Rating: Watch it.

tl;dr
Watch: Visually stunning, offbeat, and full of potential. That changing scene is hilarious.
Don’t watch: Flawed story, too dark, and overly condensed material. Rihanna needs to stop acting. Period.

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