Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“Valerian”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new science-fiction/adventure “Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets”.


In the future, a planet with peace-loving people is destroyed – but can the agents charged with investigating the attack find out who did it and why?


The society that exists on Alpha 400 years from now is a collective of humans and aliens who both live and work together in collaboration in order to improve each other’s life.  This is especially true in the demographically diverse City Of A Thousand Planets, which contains the largest population in all of Alpha.  However, the long-standing peace in the universe is disrupted when a planet is unexpectedly attacked and destroyed; only a small group of its inhabitants survive by escaping in a pod.  Slowly, over a course of many years, they try to rebuild their society – and all the while, plotting revenge.

With the universe’s peace disrupted, The United Human Federation is called into action.  The Federation is an organization of humans responsible for maintaining order and vanquishing possible threats to all of society.  Two of The Federation’s top agents are Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), who work as partners on all their missions.  They are assigned the task of investigating who attacked the planet and why.  In the meantime, The Federation Commander (Clive Owen) is kidnapped by the alien survivors of the destroyed planet so Valerian and Laureline are sent to rescue him. 

Upon finding The Commander, Valerian and Laureline are unable to free him without themselves confronting the aliens first.  Instead of being engaged in a fierce battle, the aliens relate their story to the agents; the new information they get from the aliens is alarming and forces the agents to view their situation in a whole new light.  With better insight into the aliens’ background and the motivations for their actions, the agents realize the objective of their mission must be altered.  Are the aliens justified in their capture of The Commander?  Did The Commander have prior knowledge about the attack and destruction of these aliens’ planet?  Can the agents help the aliens to restore their society?


One might forgive a viewer who anticipates fun while watching the opening credits of “Valerian” – it’s quite a visual spectacle with musical accompaniment.  Unfortunately – between the special effects and the relentless action scenes – the movie as a whole winds up feeling like more of an assault on the senses rather than a coherent story featuring protagonists about whom we can invest our emotions or time.  Ultimately, at two and a quarter hours, the film is something of a slog rather than the fast-paced adventure to which it aspires.

By the end of “Valerian”, the viewer is left caring neither about the fate of the survivors of the destroyed planet nor about the future of the possible romance between Valerian and Laureline.  It is, in fact, the aliens who seem considerably more human than the actual humans themselves – and considering it’s the humans who are the protagonists, that’s not something that bodes well for the movie itself.  Also, these members of The United Human Federation of the future appear to sustain the racism and sexism of the present:  very few non-white faces are seen among them and there seem to be no women in positions of authority. 

What little there is of entertainment value in “Valerian” comes from being able to quickly identify the famous faces, many of whom appear only in cameos.  In addition to Clive Owen, they include Rutger Hauer, Ethan Hawke and (as has been widely publicized already) Rihanna as a character called Bubble – a shape-shifting alien who performs a seductive dance for Valerian.  Although their characters do indeed move the story forward, their presence it not enough to elevate this film.  We can hope that there will be no sequel to this motion picture – or if there is, it’ll be at least a half hour shorter. 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) on IMDb

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