Wednesday, July 14, 2021


While I was at Videodrome renting a copy of The Abyss for a future Myopia Movies podcast episode, I saw a copy of the film Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets, which I thought about seeing in theaters back in 2017, dawdled, and ended up missing. Like my father says, if you wait long enough, "I don't know," becomes "no." I eventually got around to renting the film, and now it's time to review it.

The Plot

In the distant future, humanity is one of a vast number alien species coexisting throughout the galaxy and what was once the International Space Station has grown into a galaxy-traveling city of millions. It's also the base of operations for an interstellar police force, two agents of which are Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne). Although they both clearly have romantic feelings for each other, she isn't content to be one of his many sexual conquests and he's commitment-phobic.

Into this drops a mission to retrieve a rare "Mul Converter" from a gang of black marketeers. The two officers stumble into a conspiracy involving a planet officially erased from the records and a high-level military cover-up.

The Good

*The acting and characterization are very good. I really liked DeHaan and Delevingne playing their characters as essentially Harry Potter's Ron and Hermione, if Ron were James Bond in terms of martial capability and libido and Hermione were much more sarcastic and rebellious and had a shorter temper and more explicitly traditional views about sex and family. The two have really good chemistry and are fun to watch.

*Writer and director Luc Besson, the mastermind behind The Fifth Element, is clearly having a blast adapting one of his favorite comics to the screen. It's clearly a labor of love and very well-done. This shows in the casting--Besson put in the effort to cast well-known performers like Clive Owen and Rihanna and the costuming, art, etc. are all awesome. Owing to the obscurity of its source material, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than the endless remakes and sequels of more well-known films that dominate today's market.

*The overall plot is a lot more thoughtful than a lot of sci-fi films.

*There are some good uses of "show, don't tell," like a scene early on when Laureline uses the ship's computers to make a point about Valerian's love life.

*There are a lot of fun action sequences.

*The opening montage in which the International Space Station grows to include more and more Earth nations as well as increasing numbers of alien species to the point it becomes a city in space is very well-done, and even includes some cool science bits like how artificial gravity is introduced.

*Although this is hundreds of years in the future, religion--touched on however briefly when Valerian and Laureline are about to go on a mission and during a conspiracy flashback--is something that still exists and is respected, even by a lothario like Valerian. Valerian's offer to find a priest specifically is also a nice tie-in with Laureline from the comics--she was a medieval French peasant who was brought into the future and thus likely to be an actual Catholic.

The Bad

*The movie is about thirty minutes too long. This wouldn't be a problem if an entire subplot involving Laureline getting kidnapped--something that shouldn't be possible if her armor and martial skill are half that of Valerian's--got cut down or excised completely. Seriously, it basically came off as an excuse to have a Rihanna dance number, plus it also relies on a section of the titular space station essentially being off-limits to federal law enforcement agents. That makes no sense.

*There's a sequence at the end where a character introduces some elements that would make the overall situation much more morally gray, but it isn't handled well. And Valerian and Laureline make some ludicrous deductive leaps to figure out parts of it. More details about the war we see before we meet Valerian and Laureline would have been nice, as it would explain a villain's actions.

*There are some Chekov's guns that are put on the mantle but not fired. Valerian's promiscuity could have caused problems during the main plot--perhaps he's betrayed by a bitter ex-lover--but it doesn't really come up.

*There's also a major suspension-of-disbelief problem with a group of aliens who play a key role in the climax of the film.

*Early on some people our heroes are supposed to be close to get killed, but they don't seem to care.

The Verdict

It's definitely good and I hope that Besson eventually gets his way and produces a sequel, but it's got some flaws. Worth a rental, or buying cheap. 7.5 out of 10.

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