“We all know how humans work. They’re so predictable.”
In what could be argued as being the first popcorn fuelled summer blockbuster of the year – at least the first that doesn’t have a Marvel or DC title card – Valerian seemed doomed to fail from the second it opened in the US to seemingly poor reviews. Undeterred, we sent Brooker off to see if Luc Besson’s latest is as bad as everyone seems to think.
Let’s get this out of the way early. No matter what you’ve read, what you reckon after seeing the trailers, or what the self-proclaimed movie buff who sits in the stall next to you for your usual Thursday afternoon poo-slot/film think-tank believes, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets just isn’t as bad as you’ve heard. It’s actually a whole lot of fun for the most part.
Valerian is the story of two human agents in the 28th Century who are tasked with protecting a one-of-a-kind McGuffin that may be the saviour of a species that was thought extinct. It is equal parts generic, derivative and ludicrous. To try and make sense of such a story that includes a maniacal General (Clive Owen), space stations that have grown exponentially through an apparent ability for any and all species across the universe to create ships that can all dock with each other like some form of intergalactic universal adapter, and shapeshifting strippers, would take a mind far more sophisticated than mine. And honestly, a person far more willing to start picking holes in a film that shouldn’t really have holes picked in it.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems with the film, there certainly are. And we will get to some of the more glaring ones in a bit. But…
It’s a sci-fi fantasy yarn about a pair of super pretty young people running around in silly space suits, doing silly space things, on a space station that is home to a thousand different species. It has a bunch of underwater sections whose gravity doesn’t seem to be affected by the constantly moving block of flats in space. There’s an army of robo-soldiers that don’t seem to have a fail-safe from the one person that made them for dumb plot reasons. But best of all, in one of my favourite oh-so-Luc-Besson moments, it has a virtual reality bazaar that you can only see if you have a headset on. If not, you’re not restricted at all by the market and because you can’t see it, you can run straight through it without paying heed to walls, people or market stalls filled with crap Turkish rugs that all the grandmas will be flocking to buy. It’s a moment of spectacular lunacy that, to try and look at logically would make your brain hurt, but to sit back and watch for the insane fun that it is, is absolutely glorious.
Considering the film is called Valerian, its star, Dane DeHaan, the face of the title character, is not only possibly the blandest person I’ve ever seen on film, but is upstaged in a massive way by his co-star. I only know Cara Delavingne from the (*ahem* Oscar Winning) Suicide Squad, so my expectations, while not as low as some, left the former model and singer with a hell of a hill to climb. But no matter your thoughts on her pervious work, she is so entertaining to watch here and seems to be having so much fun in front of the camera that she makes her on-screen partner look like an amateur.
Granted. DeHaan isn’t particularly high in my estimations at the moment after this year’s fucking terrible A Cure for Wellness, but his performance next to Delavingne’s is nothing short of the most vanilla that I’ve seen in quite some time. As of right now, if he drove past me on the street, I’d swear blind he’d accidentally set off the airbags, such is his blandness.
The film though, the film is a work of art.
With a reported $210 million budget, legendary director Luc Besson – the guy behind Leon, La Femme Nikita and Lucy – has been let off his leash and been allowed to do whatever he wants with his money. Whether or not you think that is a bad thing is for you to judge once you’ve seen the film. Suffice to say, with that money, not only has he gone back to a style so close to his classic The Fifth Element, both visually and tonally, that it kept reminding me of the twenty year old classic as I watched, but he’s managed to somehow make it not only more incoherently bonkers, but much more fun too. Besson clearly knows what he likes and he’s put it all out there for us to see; he’s dragged his other director mates in for cameos – Transporter directors Louis LeTerrier and Olivier Megaton get as much screen time as the title credited Rutger Hauer does – and he’s thrown so many gallons of multicoloured digital paint at the wall to see what sticks that its monster and alien count would put the Men in Black waiting room to shame.
Its negatives don’t outweigh its greatness, luckily. It’s very long. It’s two and a quarter hours of insanity that is only ever let down when the boring, obvious, trite and awkwardly crowbarred love story is front and centre.
Is it perfect? Of course not. But in the first weekend in August, I got to munch my way through an enormous bag of popcorn while my eyes were glued to the gorgeousness on the screen. I came out with a big smile on my face and drove home listening to the surprisingly catchy soundtrack. What more can I ask for in my summer film going experience?
Oh. And you know what I never thought I’d come out of a daft summer blockbuster saying? Rihanna was amazing!