Saturday, July 22, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

I don't get it. The timing of this movie makes absolutely no sense. Here we have the most expensive French film in history with the U.S. equivalent of over $200 million and we release the movie in the middle of July, just after "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" and on the same exact weekend of "Dunkirk"? Like, why? I mean, the net budget is a bit smaller and there's a whole bunch of different companies and studios financing the film, so STX Entertainment didn't put too much into this. EuropaCorp took a bigger portion and various other chipped in. But still. If you have a movie that costs this much to make, you need it to make a ton of money or else everyone involved is going to lose big. So you need to pick a smart release date and this weekend was a very stupid release date that is causing this movie to completely drown in the competition. With its $200 million price tag, it just experienced an estimated $6.5 million opening day, heading for an opening weekend of around $16 million. That's what happens when you make dumb decisions with your release date. But do you know what? That serves this movie right. It's nothing but a huge, messy pile of dog crap and it doesn't even deserve one penny or one minute of your time.

It's worth noting that this is Luc Besson's passion project. It's based on the French comics "Valerian and Laureline" that were first released in 1968. Besson grew up reading these comics and wanted to make a movie out of them since he directed "The Fifth Element" in 1997. So I find it really cool that he gets to live out his dream by making this film, but I am certainly not happy with the final result. I haven't seen everything Besson has done. I've been meaning to watch "The Fifth Element" and "Leon: The Professional" from the 90's and I did like 2014's "Lucy" more than many people, but the man has also been responsible for the writing and producing of a lot of really bad movies such as the "Taken" trilogy, all of the "Transporter" films (of which I have not seen every one -- but "Transporter Refueled" was an atrocity), "Colombiana," "Brick Mansions" and "Lockout." So it's not like I see his name attached to a film and jump for joy. In fact, I watched these trailers and thought that this movie looked like complete trash. But the critics were surprisingly nice to it as it remained in the 70 percent range for a while before falling into the 50's. So maybe it's just really bad marketing and a really bad release date for a decently entertaining movie? That was my hope heading in.

I don't know what some of these critics were thinking when more than half of them gave this movie a positive review. Maybe they were shown a different version of this movie, but this movie made me cringe from the opening sequence and never let up. First off I want to talk about these visual effects that everyone is praising for some odd reason, calling it the equivalent of "Avatar." They weren't that good. And that was one of the many frustrating things for me. They had a production budget of $200 million and they can't even make their movie look good? We live in a day where movies like "The Jungle Book" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" exist and prove that modern-day CGI can do wonders. Those two movies looked like they trained real animals for the film. Yet the entire movie of "The Jungle Book" was filmed in a studio with the kid who played Mowgli walking in front of a giant blue screen and every ape in the "Planet of the Apes" movies done by motion-capture technology. "Valerian" looks like a video game or a border-line animated movie. I've seen better visual effects done in the 90's than in this movie. And this was a 2017 film with a $200 million production budget. I hold those types of movies to higher standards and it's embarrassing when they fall so short.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. At the very least I was excited to escape into this futuristic, fancy-looking universe and those sub-par visual effects took me completely out of the movie. But perhaps I could've given this a pass had the movie itself had any entertainment value. After a useless opening montage showing how far humanity has progressed in space since 1975 until the present day, which is somewhere in the 2100's in this film, we open on a perfect, paradisaical planet with these weird, barely clothed white creatures who are living the perfect life when the dumb humans decide to blow up their planet. Then we immediately jump to Valerian and Laureline modeling for us on a technologically-imposed beach, which turns out to be in a room in their ship. Being that they are important agents for this whatever organization and they are called on a mission by their bosses to this place that is named the City of a Thousand Planets, a term that I still don't understand after watching the whole dang film. Thus we begin a crazy, psychedelic adventure that seems like Besson loved these comics so much that he tried to adapt every single one of them into a giant, messed-up, convoluted drudge of a film with two lead actors that bring absolutely nothing to their roles, making me wish that both of them would be captured by aliens and eaten as breakfast.

Shortly into this movie, I came up with a nickname for it. "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Jar Jars." Remember how annoying Jar Jar was in "The Phantom Menace"? Yeah. Get ready to multiply that by a thousand. Besson obviously had a ton of fun cramming this movie with all sorts of weird aliens and creatures. For some reason he thought that would make for a really funny, creative movie. But every one of these creatures I found super annoying. Forget the sub-par effects with them that Mr. Lucas did a better job of in his original "Star Wars" trilogy that began 40 years ago. These creatures were the worst. Every time a new one came on screen, I was praying for Valerian and/or Laureline to blast it into oblivion, but Besson made sure to milk every second of screen time with each of his new creations before moving onto the next annoying creature where he did the same thing. I make sure to bring up "Star Wars" because this is exactly what Lucas did, except he was successful. Mostly. But if we ignore Jar Jar and the prequels, the original trilogy had all sorts of fancy, fun creatures that enhance the experience and make you truly love the universe you are in. "Valerian" ends up coming off as a "Star Wars" rip-off combined in a bad way with "Men in Black" and "Jupiter Ascending."

We get "Men in Black" because we have two agents and a whole ton of aliens. We have "Jupiter Ascending" because of the incoherent attempted sci-fi space adventure whose plot is one of the most confusing and nonsensical plots ever written in the history of cinema. The plot here for "Valerian" is an improvement over "Jupiter Ascending," but not by a whole lot. Yet I think "Valerian" did a better job of annoying the crap out of me in every scene, whereas "Jupiter Ascending" was just confusing and weird. If you were to put a gun to my head and force me to re-watch one of them, I honestly don't know which one I'd pick and I may be tempted to just tell you to pull the trigger. Now if we go back to the idea of this being partially a "Star Wars" rip-off, I have to mention the fact that there is actually a moment in this movie where Laureline repeats the line, "I have a bad feeling about this." I was already getting the "Star Wars" vibe at that point, so when I heard that line I wanted to shout out, "BLASPHEMY!!!!" I don't know if that was intentional or not, but how dare they use such an iconic line in such an offensive rip-off of one of the greatest franchises ever. That might be nothing for some people, but for me that was a culmination of what a disaster this movie is.

The next thing I need to talk about is the performance of our two leads, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne. In my opinion these are two very talented young actors. I loved Dane DeHaan in "Chronicle" and I was also one of the few that loved him in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." With Cara Delevigne, she won me over in "Paper Towns," even though that movie itself wasn't the greatest. And her horrendous performance as Enchantress in "Suicide Squad" wasn't her fault. She's also an attractive young lady and a great model. But man these two just had zero chemistry in this movie. They didn't fit together well as agents and they were even worse with their attempted romance, which was made super awkward by Dane DeHaan begging her to marry him throughout the whole movie when it was blatantly apparent that she wanted nothing to do with him in that sense. I'm not going to put all the blame on these two because I think the bigger problem is what they were given to work with. But they certainly didn't do a very good job of taking this material and making it work. In fact, being that Cara is a model, I felt like she was so bored with the movie that she instead focused on having fun modeling in the movie with all these outfits they gave her to wear.

The absolute worst part of this whole experience was that this movie refused to end. Our run time clocks in at 137 minutes and in my opinion it shouldn't have gone a second past the 90 minute mark. That means I think this move is literally over 40 minutes too long. But even worse, while I was never invested in the first place, I was mentally checked out at the 30 minute mark. Thus I had to sit through over 100 minutes of movie after officially wanting to leave the theater. I was practically on me knees begging the movie to end as it was one of those times when the theater transformed into a prison for me and it's been a long time since I had this strong of an urge to simply walk out. But I didn't. I endured every second of the 137 minute run time and I did it so that I can give a proper review after having watched the whole movie. I endured the horrendous story. I endured the sub-par visual effects. I endured every annoying alien, including Rihanna's shape-shifting alien doing a strip dance for Dane DeHaan. I endured the awkward romance. I endured Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne both giving the worst performance of their respective careers. And I did it so that you don't have to. Skip this one. It's not worth your money or your time. My grade for "Valerian" is a 3/10.


Some have pointed out that the "Valerian" comics came before "Star Wars," as I was very well aware of given that I mentioned that they were first published in 1968 whereas "Star Wars" came out in 1977, thus stating that it is unfair to call "Valerian" a rip-off of "Star Wars." Fair point. HOWEVER, even if I concede that "Star Wars" may have been influenced by the "Valerian" comics, that doesn't change my opinion that I think this movie feels like a "Star Wars" rip-off as the most immediate comparison there comes with "The Giver," a book that was very much ahead of its time with it's young adult dystopian themes. However, when they finally adapted it into a movie, so many other similar movies had been made that the movie very much felt behind the times and thus a copy of so many better movies before it. Such is the case here. The "Valerian" comics may have been ahead of the times, but this 2017 movie very much feels behind the times as it seems to have been made in order to cash in on this recent fad of space adventures, which includes a rival of "Star Wars" as well as other movies such as "Gravity," "Interstellar" and "The Martian." Thus I stand my ground. Even so, that doesn't change the fact that the characters, story and visual effects are awful.

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