Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
* * * - Good
I have a soft spot for The 5th Element and I expected this to be another example of how low Luc Besson has creatively fallen in recent years, but instead it shows his imagination overflowing once again. Crazy creature designs, bold art direction and outlandish costumes that are right in line with Element. (In other words, I'm recommending it to people who like that film first and probably only.)
The first 45 minutes also re-captures that entertaining sense of adventure and wonder. Sure, this was largely created on a digital stage, but the effects aren't nearly as bad as they looked in the trailer because Besson's artistic flourishes compensate. So much of the first act goes by in a rush, demonstrated by the clever opening scene showing a montage of diplomatic meetings between the evolving human race and increasingly alien species. There are a number of scenes where rooms and new creatures are only used as window dressing but seem worthy of their own film.
Setting the film in such strange lands I think was the seed for Dane DaHaan's performance. He's not a conventional action hero and at first seems terribly miscast, but I soon caught on that he was playing at what an action hero would be hundreds of years in the future, something as nerdy and insecure as he is heroic and rugged. I'm sure this comes off as a defense, but I think DaHaan's a pretty great actor and I think he fits Besson's vision better than most.
Cara Delevingne is a trickier issue, more a movie star than an actor and not somebody who's going to get much direction from Besson. I worried after the opening when she spends the next assignment reading maps while DaHaan does all the action stuff, but then he disappears for awhile and the film becomes about her. Still, it would've been better to keep them together, pulling each other out of scrapes.
The first 45 minutes is the best and there are plenty of lines that grate like some of the dialogue in Avatar. Firing on an enemy ship, DaHaan says, "I don't know where you came from, but I know where I want to send you." There are some annoying creatures too and I don't think all the actors took the film as seriously as they should have. (Looks to Clive Owen suspiciously.) Much will be written about how much this film cost and what a waste of money it was because it died at the box office. I wish more movie money would be spent on particular visions like this rather than star saleries, explosions and soulless effects.