Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Luc Besson (2017)
Since The Fifth Element many people, the sort of people I will never understand and don't care to, have been bestowing upon Besson a number of accolades. Visionary, genius, story teller, talented…Here is another one for you: hack.
Judging from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets I would have to imagine that Besson is an eight year old child who has only ever experienced the world through sci-fi videogames. And not good ones at that. The plot is asinine and riddled with clichés, the dialogues are laughably bad, the worldbuilding is a joke, the romance is all over the place, the action is nothing special and I know Besson is going to be lauded for how great his visuals are and how imaginative he is but he truly, genuinely is not - and I bet that will be my main point of contention with the general consensus.
There is nothing novel or well imagined in Valerian. The basic premise of the city is a space version of Zootopia, whether there was earlier source material or not, and nothing about Alpha is well executed. The city doesn't have any of the infinite clever details of the Disney movie that accommodate its many species and is never used by the plot other than as a gimmick. Besson substitutes worldbuilding with egregious exposition and gives us a few shots of select species and places in a quick montage before reverting to the humans with whom we will almost exclusively stick during nigh the entire movie.
That is not necessarily a bad thing because nothing about the aliens is interesting. Besson clearly belongs to the George Lucas School of We Don't Understand Evolution and Are Creatively Impaired as his aliens are to a man slightly altered versions of human beings. There are blue humans and green humans and fat humans with weird eyes and fish humans and metallic humans and robot humans ; a whole bunch of humanoid species with only the most superficial racial specificities and no cultural differences to speak of. It is the kind of movie that has got me convinced that the existing space operas belong in the realm of fantasy, not science-fiction.
But Besson cannot even write a good story like Lucas to make up for it, and he doesn't have the humour of a James Gunn either, or his ability to write likeable characters. Dehann and Delevingne (whom the title ignores for no reason at all) are not bad characters but there is nothing to do with the script they are given. It took me until halfway into the movie to be sure Major was seriously trying to court his partner ; the tone of it all seemed to change from scene to scene. The sheer awfulness of their lines culminated when Sergeant Eyebrows shouted « There is nothing more powerful in the universe than love. » or something to that effect to her superior.
This movie is also not as intelligent as Interstellar to be allowed that sort of thing.
Just once I would like to see an action movie where the government is a good guy. Besson, I typical creative-type fashion, is unable to think quite that subversively and you see who the bad guy is coming from a mile away. It is boring and overdone. The "our side made mistakes and now we must pay for it" cries of white guilt but comments on nothing. It would matter less if the first two acts were more intelligent than that, but they are not. There is a scene where a street informant somehow meets Eyebrows in a hallway outside of the room where space-UN Security Council is meeting, and that should tell you everything about the level of logic this movie operates on.
On that note, anyone who understood at once the hierarchy and relationships between the Minister, the Commander, the general, the Security Council and the Council is a smarter man than I.
Valerian is not utterly bad. The acting is as good as it can be, and charming. There are some beautiful sets even though they're nothing amazing in terms of inventiveness. The action can be good fun at times and at its best the movie manages to be passably entertaining - until you start wondering how a spaceship three times the size of a large bomber aircraft can be firing in the middle of space-New York without anyone batting an eye. It is not utterly bad, it is just utterly, thoroughly dumb.