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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (spoiler-free)


adjective re·lent·less \-ləs\
:showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace:

If you want a one-word review of Valerian… that’s it.

That is both a virtue and a flaw.

I was entertained every minute of this movie. Honest. There was no room to get bored or not be surprised by what happened, what was happening and what was about to happen.

But at the end, I was emptier than I would have expected. I think this is because of the breathlessness of the storytelling, Luc Besson is, undoubtably, a master filmmaker. His voice is strong. Of all the CG-heavy action films in the last couple of years, Besson’s voice, James Gunn’s voice, Scott Derrickson’s voice, and the guys who did the deeply flawed Pirates movie (Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg) come through clearest. If I were Disney, I would be chasing Besson all day long.

You feel Besson’s excitement in every loaded-to-the-gills frame. Sensational opening sequence that manages to explain the idea of The City of 1000 Planets with clarity (and beauty) in three minutes. If I were STX, I’d be pushing that onto the web for audiences to get a head start. After they watch it, they will want to see it on a big screen.

But trying to figure why I wasn’t ready to say this was one of the greatest of the new millennium, I went through the list. Cast? You can’t watch the film without wondering whether it would have been better with young Leo DiCaprio and a young Milla Jovovich. But alas, they are not young anymore. I like the kink of Dane DeHaan. And for the first time, honestly, I liked Cara Delevingne. She delivered. Pitt & Jolie? Colin Farrell & Charlize Theron? All too old now. Bur as the movie progressed, the two of them grew on me. I don’t know. There is something just a little too-little-there and that can’t explain it. DeHaan was less dangerous than I wanted and she was less painful to watch prance around for a man in lust. Maybe that’s it. Just one more turn of the notch.

I thought about The Fifth Element, which I love. There was something about a mainstream, balding hero like Bruce Willis, against all the Besson visual insanity, that made movie magic. He grounded the movie so flights of fancy were free to seduce the audience.

The emotional core of this movie is a species of beautiful, very tall, glowing, peaceful beings who are drawn into the ugliness of the rest of the universe, led by Elizabeth Debicki, who needs some more work as a human being. They offer a similar kind of unexpected, overwhelming humanity and beauty, like the opera alien in The Fifth Element.

Some cameos are better than others. Not a fan of Herbie Hancock acting. He’s no Tiny Lister. Loved Ethan Hawke. Such a joy to see him to comedy. John Goodman’s vocal performance is terrific. Rihanna is not an actor. But she is a performer and did well, even when tasked with big emotional beats.

It is shocking when it seems that Besson has the balls for Chip Zien to voice a duck-billed group of characters… but he didn’t. Sigh.

Valerian was an endless Christmas of packages to open and open and open and open. Something keeps it from being Raiders of the Lost Ark. Wish I knew exactly what that was. (I am going to see it again this week.) The only thing I found eye-rolling was the inevitable exposure of a big baddie. Saw that a mile away. But pretty much everything else was fresh and cool and didn’t feel like obviously derivative of the much-worn alien universe trail.

Trying to offer you a glimpse the storyline would be foolish. It’s not a story movie. Valerian and Laureline need to save the universe… and flirt. You will meet more aliens than you can possible remember. And you will find all of Besson’s optimism about species, however lost they may be, finding their way back to love.

I feel awkward being so Pete about it, but this is the best big movie of the summer. It is original. It is a masterclass in visual filmmaking. And it is like nothing else you have seen.

There are people who will hate it. Too Besson-y for them. I don’t think they are idiots for feeling that way. Individual taste is individual taste. Some will pick at the leads. Some, like me, will just sense that missing element that is just beyond clarity.

But I would send anyone who likes showy Besson (which Guardians owes to) and just wants to have a good time. You don’t even have to turn off your brain. There are some true big ideas here. But mostly, it’s a two-hour-plus non-stop all-downhill rollercoaster ride.

I haven’t seen another summer film a second time this year. I look forward to seeing Baby Driver again in a theater. And Valerian.

9 Responses to “Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (spoiler-free)”

  1. Pete B says:

    Thanks for the review, Dave. I’ll read it in 2 weeks after I’ve seen the film. Looks like my internet embargo has to start earlier than planned.

  2. Cg says:

    Thanks for this – it is great to see your reviews in regular rotation again!

  3. Jon says:

    I saw this at a screening and LOVED it. The reviews today in The Hollywood Reporter were merciless. There is a huge audience for this movie if they will only look past the internet, let go, and be entertained. It is not Raiders, but it is cool and the girl is hot. Every geek like me at ComicCon would make this into a cult classic. Fingers crossed against the machine.

  4. jspartisan says:

    We do not live in a world where motherfuckers have the tolerance for movies like this.

  5. Doug R says:

    …So typical Besson. Will be watching for the Tchéky Karyo cameo.

  6. Hallick says:

    Considering the Hunter S. Thompson-scale tolerance said motherfuckers have for other movies that never deserved it, that might be a sad fact.

  7. palmtree says:

    Glad to hear this movie has “some true big ideas.”

  8. leahnz says:

    lol palmtree (facepalm)

  9. Pete B says:

    I came back and read your review after seeing the movie. You pretty much nailed it. This is a film that people will have made their opinion on before even viewing. “Too Besson-y” is a new catchphrase.

    Personally, I loved it and want more.

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