Time is limited, so things will be brief here today.
As mentioned recently in previous reviews regarding dream projects, they are often a truly dicey proposition. They are often large scale labors of love, that either exposes parts of an artist that at times can reveal less than flattering aspects of taste, or somehow elevate something that could very easily been a misfire. And while I'm tempted to play hard into what keeps Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets from being either, let's just keep things at an even keel and say that despite all the problems that dog this film, it for the most part doesn't offend personal sensibilities, nor does it deserve the virtual dogpile it has experienced over the last few weeks. At its very worst, Valerian is the kind of top heavy labor of love that one either runs with from the start, or begins bolting from the theater ten minutes in. It's a wholly french comics sort of experience where passions run high, design is all over the map, and sense is hardly the order of the day. Considering that it has been twenty years since The Fifth Element, one would hope that was enough of a warning.
Based on comics that I only leafed through during the mid 1990s created by Christin and Mezieres, Valerian & Laureline tells of the exploits of a pair of interstellar agents/life partners, as they seek to right wrongs throughout deepest space. And in this one, they are called upon to initially protect Alpha, a hulking space colony, legendary for uniting hundreds of worlds that is now exploring well beyond Earth. Also tasked with protecting a high ranking military official(Clive Owen), the pair soon realize that the danger threatening Alpha from deep within might not be as clear cut as they imagines. This, all while the cocky Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) struggles with commitment to his far more educated, and emotionally engaged Laureline(Cara Delevingne). Right off the bat, from the use of Space Oddity to accompany the origin of Alpha, to a bit of a row on Big Market, it is very clear that we're no longer in the kind of space faring pulp that's as interested in wanton infodumping, and far more in just allowing these characters to exist in this colorful, and mostly wacky universe.
The presentation is pretty much why this film exists. It's the kind of post-AVATAR project that hews closer to that of a theme park attraction than a solid narrative. Characters run into action, trip into an alien, or stumble deep into a space station's catacombs, and there's another ten minutes of another environment for Besson and company to revel in bringing to life. The central plot is simple enough, regarding colonialism, and the ignorance of indigenous life in regards to energy, and thereby a struggle between life, and commerce. It's ultimately pat material, but far less insulting than James Cameron's cracks at such themes. That's right. For all it's problems, this for me is a far more acceptable ride than that of AVATAR's deeply disingenuous attempts at environmental activism. At least here, we grow to understand the whys, and the impulse to hand wave something so complex, even when the decisions are horrible. The presentation of the world, its people, cultures, and even its themes don't weigh so heavily, and is far more about the unbridled joy of immersion.
It would certainly have helped if the script were more interested in pumping up the drama where it's most needed, but at the tone and cadence on hand, far too much of it is in neutral. This sort of confines our heroes into constant bicker mode, which would be great if there were more meat on that bone. Unfortunately, we only get a general idea of our central couple as they traverse dangers from all sides. We could criticize the performances all we want, but in the end, it's the script that largely fails them. The final product, for better or worse, is an amalgam of years of wishing upon wishing. And sometimes, it means items in the project become too precious, and yet don't work with the final whole. A great deal of Valerian, is bottomlessly indulgent, and it isn't very shy about being so.
And yet, I can't fault the film for wanting to be this grand scale bastion of weirdness and beauty. It isn't hard on the mind, it suffers from a bit of the preciousness I mentioned, especially during the end of the second act. But what it lacks in control, it makes up for in sheer lack of self-consciousness. It is a shameless piece of work that one will either like or loathe. As for love, the core theme behind the entire film, it remains as innocent as it once was back in 1997. And considering that this is now the most expensive independent production to date, one could certainly have done a great deal worse. Valerian, is an at times unrelentingly goofy experience. But seriously, how often do we get stuff like this?
If you check it out at all, 3D is the ticket. Settle for nothing less.