Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
By: Stacey A. Giulianti, Owner, Lauderdale Comics
As a huge The Fifth Element fan, I was excited for the release of this new film by Director Luc Besson. Moreover, I couldn’t wait to get back into that world; one of of futuristic cities, campy acting, and flawless fashion. While I am no “hater” of this movie, I believe most critics will agree that the opportunity to create another sleeper hit was lost — and there are several reasons for that defeat.
First, let’s be clear: the scenery, the effects, and the setting are gorgeously rendered. This movie is worth seeing merely for the incredible science fiction backdrops that bring these 1,000 planets to life. It’s a B-movie, to be sure, with some exciting scenes and terrific story ideas. Sure, the lifeforms-at-risk are Avatar ripoffs, and the story line seems (almost) directly lifted from that movie plot. But, hey, this is 2017, and the effects are even better, giving the entire movie an almost “real” feeling to it, despite the general campiness of this movie style.
The failure of the movie, however, comes not from its ripped off plot or character styles, but from its lack of casting acumen and lack of humor. There is NO Bruce Willis in this movie, there is NO Gary Oldman in this movie. Frankly, there are no decent actors in this movie — at least not of the type that would carry a Luc Besson film. I am not suggesting that “famous” actors were needed to make this movie a success; sometimes, big names actual take away from the independence of these films. However, the personality of Willis and Oldman, along with an array of superior character actors (and models thrown in for eye candy), made The Fifth Element such a successful, fun film romp through intersteller space. Without providing specific recommendations, I am confident that most critics (and fans) would agree that the two main characters chosen, along with the main villain, were not suited for their roles, and did nothing to create a richer film experience than the story demanded. Rihanna, however, was incredible in her role, one that was both unexpected and extremely visually appealing. Kudos to the singer/actress for a job well done.
As for the “lack of humor” issue, DC Studios realized this in its recent string of failures; audiences want humor, well written one-liners, and anachronistic occurrences to bring modern life into the movie experience. There were basically no “jokes” in the movie; the film was campy yet humorless. Neither main character (nor the Villain) had even a sense of irony or fun. Bruce Willis played his role in The Fifth Element precisely as one would have expected Valerian to follow. Yet the writers and director failed to realize this absolutely essential element of a successful “hero” film. The hero must be funny, both from a physical action standpoint as well as with spoken lines. Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman nailed this (along with about a dozen other character actors in that film); no one in Valerian came even close. The directing and writing team seemed to have been unaware of what elements create a likable (and successful) film. Or perhaps they forgot. Either way, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets succeeds visually, even with its recycled story line, yet falters on its way to the finish line due to its lack of humor and poor casting.