Valerian is an astonishing mess. It isn’t awful, but it is, well, really messy.
Here’s the thing: as some kind of motion-comic ode to the glory days of European sci-fi/fantasy mag Heavy Metal, it’s fantastic. Unfortunately, this isn’t a motion-comic, its supposed to be a movie. As the latter, its awful.
Which is the curious thing about last year. Denis Villeneuve gave us a slow, long movie full of ideas and philosophical concepts, and it struggled at the box-office. Luc Besson gave us a fast, stupid, action cgi-fest full of explosions and stunts and eye-candy, without hardly any trace of a plot, and that, too, struggled. I guess how you judge if either film ‘bombed’ rather than ‘struggled’ is down to expectations/point of view. The same year Rian Johnson gave us The Last Jedi, and that sailed past a billion dollars in weeks. Well, you don’t have to bother yourself with words like ‘bombed’ or ‘struggled’ there, I think. As for the quality of the three movies, well…
Less is more, I think. Movie directors today really do seem to have a problem with cgi effects, with simply being able to do everything and anything. Like a kid in a candy store, they cannot resist having ‘just one more’. With Valerian, director Luc Besson seems to have emptied the entire store, and perhaps the storeroom in the back
It’s so noisy, so stupid. Most of the time, I didn’t know where to look. The multi-dimensional market in the desert had vast canyons teeming with life and neon and stores and details but it was a bewildering, confusing mess. The titular city of a thousand planets was gigantic and sprawling but, oh, where to look? What am I supposed to be focussing on? Half the time, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.
Focus is a good word regards Valerian: there isn’t any. Perhaps Besson thought the visuals and the noise would carry it through.
As it is, we have two main protagonists without any charm at all, played by actors with no chemistry. Perhaps Besson thought, again, that the visuals and noise would carry them through. Alas, he was wrong. Who the hell cared about either of them? We didn’t know them at all. Some horny young bloke hot for his gorgeous chick partner babbling on about a marriage proposal whilst they have a crazy mission that is unclear and makes no sense?
But it sure is pretty. The prologue piece, showing the foundation and expansion of the titular city, to the sounds of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, feels like something approaching genius. Its snappy and gorgeous and a little 1970’s psychedelic, complete with Roy Batty gravelly intoning something about the future. It’s all rather downhill from there.
Problems arise early on with a visually impressive sequence on a strange alien planet that promises much, but is deliberately vague robbing the sequence of any drama or context- it seems to mean nothing but looks very pretty doing it, and thus sets up the tone for the remainder of the film. We cut to our two pretty stars and their vacuous, meaningless zero-chemistry relationship and they are off on a mission on a desert planet that yes, looks amazingly pretty but, well, means nothing. Oh yeah, they steal/rescue (even that isn’t clear) a little alien critter we saw in the earlier alien planet segment but we don’t know why, even when they than take that critter to the city of a thousand planets.
Oh, and there’s a really odd sequence involving Ethan Hawke and Rihanna that seems like a pointless diversion and… well, it looks pretty.
People like me reading Heavy Metal and 2000AD in the 1970s dreamed of films that looked like this. Little did we know that they wouldn’t mean anything, other than looking so spectacular.