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Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets

[1]611 words

Valerian? Isn’t that a root one chews to fall asleep?

I saw Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element near the end of its run in the theaters, and it was love at first frame. I loved its Manichean/ancient astronauts plot, unique and dazzling visual style (imagine the Coen brothers remaking Barbarella), the madcap action, blond Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman’s Zorg (an evil Ross Perot with slightly displaced Hitler hair and Fu Manchu’s wardrobe), Milla Jovovich’s Leeloo (“perfect”), the blue diva, and of course THE SCREEEEEEEEAM [2].

Ever since, The Fifth Element in its screen, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray incarnations has been on my short list of “comfort films”: movies that I watch at least once a year when I am home alone for a holiday or feeling out of sorts.

I never got into Besson’s other films, and for 20 years now, I have been wishing that he would do another film like The Fifth Element. What I got was Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Careful what you wish for.

I really wanted to like this movie and saw the first non-3D screening in my neighborhood. Valerian has the imaginative visual style and thrilling action of The Fifth Element, but the plot is unoriginal, politically correct, and often quite boring: basically a mashup of Zootopia [3] and Avatar.

Zootopia is the ludicrous “city of a thousand planets,” a vast space station that looks like a garbage dump on the outside and is basically one large Star Wars cantina on the inside, i.e., a terrifying mass of seething diversity and vibrancy and decadence — replete with filth, corruption, slavery, and cannibalism.

The other setting is basically Avatar‘s Pandora, populated by opalescent androgynous primitives who — they tell us twice in the same dialogue bubble — lived in “harmony” with nature until evil colonialist types came along and spoiled things.┬áThere’s also a dash of holocaust sanctimony (six million dead, a diaspora of miraculous survivors, etc.) to trigger the tear ducts of the college educated and signal that the movie is now serious for a sec.

If there’s a message to this movie, it is that the denizens of the Star Wars cantina need to feel guilty of colonialism and genocide and perhaps atone with some more diversity. That, and that one should not trust authority or keep oaths, but one should trust one’s girlfriend, and don’t even think of breaking promises to her.

The lead roles of Valerian and Laureline are absurdly miscast. Dane DeHaan is the most uncharismatic leading man in movie history. Action heroes should look like Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, or Ryan Reynolds, not a prepubescent Leonardo DiCaprio with bags under his eyes. Cara Delevingne is beautiful, but as an actress . . . well, she makes Milla Jovovich and even Natalie Portman look like RADA graduates. Their love affair would have been appealingly wholesome if there were any chemistry between them at all.

I will say nothing of the plot, save that involves good guys and bad guys, both of which are trying to find something really important. There’s also a boy and a girl who have a somewhat stormy mutual attraction. There are lots of chases and fights, then a pretty happy ending with a pop song over the closing credits.

My favorite bits were the trio of fast-talking Jew birds and the scene with the new blue diva, this one a dancer.

Valerian is a huge disappointment, but I will probably watch it again, and with any luck it will someday settle into the so-bad-it’s-good category, along with Barbarella and Flash Gordon. It might even make back its 209 million dollar budget with midnight movie showings, sometime well into the 23rd century.