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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

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Score: 3/10

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 17 min.

Release Date: July 21st, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Luc Besson Actors: Cara Delevingne, Dane DeHaan, Clive Owen, Sam Spruell, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, John Goodman, Rutger Hauer

I

n the year 2550 – hundreds of years after the massive Alpha space station, which had originally orbited Earth, was sent towards the Magellan Current – the iconic intergalactic hub has become both a trading center to thousands of alien species and a home to millions of diverse beings. When a mysterious radioactive zone is discovered in the middle of the station, top Human Federation agents Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are called upon to escort Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) to a meeting to discuss the predicament. But before a resolution can be proposed, the assemblage is attacked by an unknown race of humanoids, who abscond with the commander in their custody. When Valerian and Laureline pursue the assailants and attempt to rescue Filitt, the duo is drawn into a vast conspiracy that could not only threaten the lives of everyone aboard Alpha, but also expose a horrifying secret of human history.

The opening sequence is incredibly creative, as it cleverly and clearly establishes the setting – centuries into a future full of alien cooperation. Through a montage of space exploration milestones, the audience is given all the information they need to believe in the current state of the federation of planets; quickly, and with humor, it’s easy enough to understand the many meetings of sentient extraterrestrial species and their contributions to this considerably advanced conglomeration of societies. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here.

Unnecessary but cute alien pets seem to be a recurring motif for Besson’s fantastic cultures; a few character designs borrow heavily from “Avatar”; and more than a few locations and imagery appear ripped from “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” (a strange picture from which to steal – or a sad, accidental coincidence). But these are trifling inclusions compared to the horrendous casting choices for the two leads. Few films have gotten this so wrong. Not only are DeHaan and Delevingne utterly incompatible (destitute of the faintest bit of chemistry), but they’re also markedly too young in appearance. Their ages are never specified, though their youth isn’t by itself problematic. Instead, it’s the combination with their duties, responsibilities, and actions. “I took a few detours when I was younger,” insists Valerian, who goes on to casually remark about his nine years of military service and seven Medals of Honor. But he doesn’t look old enough to have accomplished even half of such feats. Nor does he look old enough to have acquired the skills or maturity needed to be in such an elite governmental position. And Laureline appears even younger – perhaps even too young to enlist.

Their physical youthfulness might have been easier to overlook were it not for their top secret assignments. Immediately after engaging in a highly dangerous infiltration operation (during which their recklessness manages to get everyone but themselves hurt or killed), the duo are tasked with not only being personal bodyguards for the highest-ranking official, but also safeguarding one of the most valuable of all intergalactic prizes. What makes these two so trustworthy? What makes them so formidable? And alongside their unconvincing designs comes some of the worst dialogue of late, written as if specifically for a simple teen romance. Every one of their exchanges and every one of their quips falls flat; the humor is hopelessly clumsy and stale. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” drearily retorts Valerian in one of his most cliched lines.

There are a few amusing sci-fi concoctions running around, but they’re savagely humbled by the dreadful conversations and lackluster love banter. Even a few of the action scenes wouldn’t be too shabby, if only they could be isolated from the pitiful dialogue. Exo-space, past or future memory waves, a bustling marketplace partly submerged in an alternate dimension, trans-matter boxes, and body-hijacking for controlling the enemy like a puppet are all fascinating ideas that give the film a hint of originality. But these elements are quickly forgotten when the plot progresses through the use of never-ending randomness (a kidnapping subplot in a lawless zone is spontaneously derived for further adventures, with the solution also pulled out of thin air, turning the entire affair into time-wasting monotony that has no bearing on the ultimate goal), and when the characters are devoid of defined capabilities and limitations. It only cheapens the thrills when the heroes can rescue one another or save the day thanks to a handy weapon or a miraculous instrument conveniently at their disposal. By the time the conclusion arrives – full of clunky, laughable flashbacks that reiterate exactly what the characters just stated – it doesn’t even matter that the countdown-to-destruction climax never poses a sincere threat. Or that Valerian ridiculously maintains that he’s a soldier who follows the rules – after having disobeyed direct orders and broken all protocols for the entire length of the picture.

– The Massie Twins

 



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