Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets 05.08.17
It's meant to be terrible, but all I can think about right now is how Luc Besson's Valerian is better than James Cameron's Avatar (2009). There are, I insist, comparisons to be made, none of them flattering to the inexplicably lauded Avatar.
Let's start with the overview: they're both sci-fi blockbusters, representing a visionary labour-of-love for the directors, even if Valerian has also been judged a labour-of-failure for Besson, by now already a two-star movie according to both The Guardian and Empire magazine, the former claiming it satisfies 'if you're willing to overlook things like acting, plot, characterization, dialogue, character arcs, pacing, structure and leads'. It's a funny line, I even agree with some of the points, but importantly, not all of them, including the plot, which I liked.
Yet Valerian's biggest strength is its ambience, with the combining of visual imagination and fun. For it's a kaleidoscope sci-fi that imagines a thousand races living together in a spectacular melange, and God knows we should celebrate such a vision in these suspicious, immigrants-not-wanted, wall-building times. Unlike Cameron's critically-lauded Avatar, the tone in Valerian is gentle, crazy, and sexy; it's not just evil colonialists versus beautiful, tragic natives (similar to, but more beautiful than, the aliens of Avatar); the arseholes-of-hate in Valerian are a minority and challenged from within and without, not just by the two central heroes, but by other, lesser characters. Thus optimism triumphs over cynicism in several locations and between several characters, giving the overall tone of the film one of light.
Its weaknesses? Undoubtedly, the dialogue, and initially the two central performances, but both actors grow into their parts as the film carries on, as I saw it, and by the end, Dane DeHaan's Valerian succeeds in convincing as an action hero, while Cara Delevingne's Laureline projects a growing, primal integrity, her belief in the power of love sincere and discernible.Overall then, this is a spectacular popcorn fantasy, at various points funny, sexy and optimistic. And despite its flaws, I'd like to see more of this fluorescent universe with its optimistic vision, though perhaps next time, in the sequel that I hope the director Besson makes, with a balance between Besson's psychedelic visions and a screenwriter who can do the characters more justice.