Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is living proof that just being fun won't save a movie. And VatCofTP (say, let's just call it Valerian) really is fun, as well as being visually stunning. Unfortunately, that just makes its faults more obvious when compared to the moviemaker's previous fun and visual flick, The Fifth Element, which benefits from better casting decisions.
Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is a special operative, basically a combination secret agent/Navy SEAL. He and his partner, Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) drop their spaceship into problem areas James Bond style, and in this case they're assigned to investigate Alpha, a mysterious cancer that's spreading through a remarkable space-borne city in which species from across the galaxy learn from each other, exchange cultures, and party.
|Gee, we only see a hundred planets.|
Then things get confusing. Well, okay, they're already confusing, starting with an opening segment on a world so peaceful and beautiful you just know it's about to be demolished. We cut from there to Valerian and Laureline, who are arguing about getting married while landing on a planet bare of anything, unless you put on virtual reality visors and go on a huge shopping spree.
Soon they're neck deep in an effort to retrieve ... well, what they retrieve is related to the earlier planetary paradise, as is the rest of the movie, although how they're related doesn't become clear until toward the end. For some viewers, it doesn't become clear at all.
Some people were apparently never able to figure out what was going on. I was, eventually, but a large part of the movie is more about seeing neat things than about the actual plot. I'm okay with that in theory; still, a little consistency and logic are also nice, and Valerian tends to be weak in those areas.
But my biggest problem was the casting. Major Valerian plays like a much older character, and apparently was, in the comics; DeHaan comes off as a lightweight, and just can't make us believe he's an experienced, senior ranked operative in a galaxy-wide security service. Worse, he has little chemistry with Delevingne, who I found much more believably bad-ass. The movie slows to a crawl whenever their romance comes up, and one has to wonder why she hasn't already requested a different partner. I'd be happy to see her play the same part again, and some of my favorite moments of the movie were when she worked solo. Him, not so much.
|I suppose the original characters would be too old, now.|
Otherwise Valerian provided in spades what we've come to expect from movie space opera: great effects and action sequences, weird aliens, last minute saves, and bad guys doing things that don't always make sense. But in a way that was the problem: Everything got thrown at the screen, losing the story and characters in the process.
entertainment value: 3 M&Ms out of 4 ... and remember, I'm easily entertained.
Oscar potential: 1 M&M out of 4. Not that it couldn't get nominations for something like effects or makeup, but overall VatCofTP is as overly complicated as trying to shorten the title.