Directed by: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer
Runtime: 137 min
Luc Besson directs the very famous comic book series that tells the adventure of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), two special agents that are charged with the protection of the human territories in the universe.
One mission takes them to the ever-growing city Alpha, a metropolis that has been holding different races and species throughout centuries, where knowledge, culture and intelligence are shared. A "virus" appears to be expanding in the center of the city and the agents have to rush to identify its source and save not just Alpha, but the whole universe.
First of all, no ... I didn't read the books and I'm a very strong apologist of the famous quote "books don't matter" because they truly don't. Even if a movie is a book's adaptation, I will never classify a missing part of the book as a film's flaw, especially if it doesn't really change an important aspect of the main plot (best example that I have: Tom Bombadil doesn't appear in The Lord of The Rings franchise ... It's still my favorite franchise of all-time). So, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is or not a good movie?!
Honestly, I think this is the film where I feel most at the "middle of the road" in a long, long time. My positives perfectly equal my negatives (in impact/influence, not in quantity since it isn't the latter that defines a movie's final rating, this isn't math), so this is a very mixed review.
I'll start with the actors since they were scrutinized a lot even before the film's release. I think a lot of critics are being too quick to criticize their chemistry and even acting ability, due to their recent bad movies. I don't care about their past, I only care about their performance in this film and their chemistry is fine. It's not great, but saying that there's no chemistry is an overreaction.
Cara Delevingne is actually pretty good and most reviewers simply can't forget the Suicide Squad's horrible hula dance. She's compelling and her character has a quirky and sarcastic personality, but she's also very connected to love and there's a scene near the end that proves both the good character's essence and the actress's acting ability.
Dane DeHaan isn't good enough to be the main badass hero. He feels dull and bland, but his character doesn't exactly help him. There's nothing that proves that Valerian deserves his name in the movie's title, actually, I have no idea why it really is named after him. The main plot isn't about him and even the romantic subplot gives more depth to Laureline than to him. Whatever ...
The romance doesn't really captivate, but it doesn't bother either since the main story is very intriguing. The writing for both characters is not good which doesn't allow them to be well explored. There's no real, emotional reason why I should care about any of them, so the tension usually present in action scenes just isn't there. However, there is, in fact, a very good, emotional and compelling scene near the end where Cara Delevingne really shines.
As for the rest of the characters/cast, Rihanna plays Bubble and her character couldn't be less explored and badly used as it is. What starts as a very attractive introduction ends with such a nonsense and emotionless moment that I'm still asking myself "why is this character in the film for?". Rihanna is good, though. Sam Spruell is surprisingly very, very good as General Okto-Bar and he elevates some apparently insignificant scenes.
The population of Mül are undoubtedly the most exciting and enigmatic characters of the movie and every time one of the species is on-screen, my attention exponentially increases. Their backstory is emotional and their world is absolutely fascinating, it's one of the most beautiful environments I've ever seen.
My main issue with this film is something that is so much present in the plot, that it even has an incarnation in a character (well, three actually, but they always show up together). Since this is a huge sci-fi/fantasy universe, there's a lot (really, a lot) that needs to be explained to the audience in order for us to understand why things are as they are and how did they got where they are ... So. Much. Exposition.
Right from the beginning until the very end, there's exposition everywhere about everything in every way: narration, dialogue, flashbacks (some are actually well used and cool, but there are too few of them) and the worst way of them all, as a character. Exposition itself is represented in this three little alien characters that are the equivalent of Jar Jar Binks, it's impossible for someone to like these guys. Every single scene with them is pure, raw exposition and that's the most accurate definition of lazy writing that I can find nowadays. Awful, horrible characters!
Obviously, with so much expositional storytelling the pacing suffers. After a very interesting and captivating first act, the movie's pacing drops into a slow-burn and the long runtime isn't the feature to blame. The script isn't able to balance the action sequences with plot development right, so the somewhat boring "history lessons" have a much bigger effect.
In spite of that, there are some great positives to this film! The action scenes are riveting and incredibly directed, some of which are close to perfection. However, the visuals are what steal the whole show. My fellow readers, this is one of the best looking movies of this century! Every single shot has an astounding amount of quality, the CGI is mastered flawlessly and I doubt that there's a single flaw or a drop in visual beauty throughout the whole runtime. I couldn't see any and I dare you to try and point out a visual flaw ... A stunning masterpiece.
Like I said above, the first act is actually very interesting since this universe really has a lot of material to be explored. I don't think this franchise will end here since there's a huge fandom and I understand why. The concept is very captivating and mysterious, which invites a lot of people to simply get lost in this fantastic environment.
The third act partially compensates the tedious previous act and it's very entertaining and fun, full of well-filmed action and some funny moments. It reaches my expectations in terms of entertainment value and the quality of the action is to be praised.
All in all, it's a rollercoaster film. One of the best visuals of the century battles a slow-paced, excruciatingly expositional plot, while very cool action sequences seem to not be enough to contradict the underdeveloped and poorly explored characters. Cara Delevingne does a pretty good job, but Dane DeHaan doesn't have the acting ability to be the main badass hero, therefore their chemistry is "just fine". It's a very intriguing universe that I honestly hope it continues since it has everything to have a great movie in the near future.