Remember how it was the S.O.’s birthday at some point recently, and he is a huge fan of The Fifth Element? Well, he saw the trailer for Valerian and decided he wanted to see it, so off we went to the theater.
I didn’t go into this movie with a lot of expectations, honestly. Thank goodness, because I was a disappointed even with the low expectations I had. This movie actually reminded me the most of M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptation. It was sprawling, tried to fit too much into one film, had terrible pacing, and generally made no sense. Also, it was sexist, but I expected that.
Spoilers, if you care. For the record, if I hadn’t made it clear, you should not watch this movie for the plot, but for the world (which was interesting), the visuals (which were awesome), and the ideas (which were undeveloped but had potential). If you’re looking for a good story, look elsewhere. It is my opinion that you could know the whole plot of the movie and possibly enjoy it more, since you could watch it for the technical bits of the filming and CGI and never hope for emotional impact.
With all that said, good things first because I’m not a total monster.
The graphics on this movie were amazing. We went to see it in 3D and honestly, if I had seen it in standard format I probably would have walked out. The 3D was smooth, immersive, and not gimmicky. It’s the first time I’ve seen a 3D movie in a while because I tend not to like the medium, but this one was a solid film in that regard.
The world-building was similarly immersive. While some elements fell apart at points due to poor writing, and they honestly spent too much time on the world-building at other points, the imagination behind the world was very interesting and appealing. Most of the action took place on a space station called the City of a Thousand Planets (thus the title), home to a variety of alien life forms from across many solar systems. This was meant to be a future of our world – the opening sequence of the movie, by far one of the best parts in many respects, shows the progression of our own space station from the 70s into the future several hundred years later. Alpha, as it is called, becomes a thriving center of commerce and a home for millions. Pretty cool concept, honestly.
Things start falling apart, however, about the time we meet our main characters.
Major Valerian, the titular lead, is supposed to be an insanely competent operative for the Galactic military or some such. We are meant to believe his ego is his failing. His partner, Laureline, is also supposed to be quite competent. Her failing is meant to be Valerian, who is a womanizer and an asshole and whom she constantly has to save. From the start it is hard to care about any of this, because the dialogue between these characters and their acting is so stilted that it is impossible to believe anything they say.
At the beginning of the movie, Valerian receives a dream or vision of a great cataclysm, on a world he has never seen. He is at this point, at least theoretically, inhabited by a deceased being from this world. There is no real discussion of how this affects his psychology until the end of the movie, but it’s supposed to be a plot driver so I will note it here.
Anyway, galactic romps occur. Valerian and Laureline must recover a small alien lifeform which is confusingly termed a converter and which is fundamentally invaluable. It turns out, however, that another group is looking for the converter, which throws a wrench in their operation (or should have, its debatable that Valerian didn’t just screw up with his big ego). These outside players are recognizably the same species as the people from Valerian’s vision at the beginning of the movie. The characters make it out and with their small converter creature and head to rendezvous at Alpha. Why they are taking the converter to Alpha is honestly never really explained.
I’ll skip over a lot of the middle stuff because really it got confusing and boring. To make a long story short, it turns out that the apocalypse that Valerian saw in his dream took place on planet Mur, which was inhabited by the magical, super-advanced primitive society of the Pearls (a term adopted for this species part of the way through the movie, who are basically blue people a la Avatar who have mystical powers and live in harmony with the earth but can also invent super-technology). The Pearls are the proper owner of the converter, which they need to rebuild their planet. There is an evil general who has covered up their existence because he is the one who caused the apocalypse on their planet, resulting in their near-extinction. For some unknown reason, someone in power has seen fit to give this unstable human super robots that only he can control. The super robots lurk ominously throughout the middle of the movie until they murder everyone at the end through a series of stupidity.
In the interim, however, Valerian continues to hit on Laureline and make terrible decisions. He runs into an area of the space station that is supposedly contaminated and crashes his ship. Laureline runs off to save him. I can’t lie – at this point in the movie I got my hopes up. My hopes being that Laureline would do something besides be a magical object that Valerian uses to fix the things he’s broken and lusts after. (Seriously, they could have replaced her with a wrench for most of the movie.) This fails to occur.
Instead, for some reason, Laureline is captured by some aliens and taken to their part of the space station, leading to the most thoroughly useless part of the movie. (Apparently 500 years from now, men will still be attracted to women in 1950s nurse costumes at the exclusion of sense. Please give me some more inventive sexual fetishes, please.) It does allow Valerian to show his manliness by saving Laureline, theoretically a scary-good military agent in her own right (though the most she has done is beat up two guys, and her track record does not get any better).
Laureline then convinces him that he has to be a good person and give the converter to the Pearls. Why she is the one convincing him and not the other way around, since he’s possessed by a dead Pearl, I’m not sure. Probably because she’s a lady and has feelings.
Basically this movie was a cluster. It was sexist, it was downright boring at points, and I honestly didn’t care what happened to the characters because they had no emotional interest to me. If the graphics had not been good, I would have probably called someone to ask for my money back.
That said, I think there could have been a really simple fix to this narratively. First, if they had cut out a decent amount of the superfluous exposition, the pacing would have been tighter. It would have left me less time to realize how dumb things were, and so I might have enjoyed it more.
Second, a really simple fix would have been to make Laureline the one who gets the vision and wants to help the Pearls. She manifests that need to help them at several points in the movie, for no reason I can discern. She is supposed to be an ice queen, a badass with a chip on her shoulder, or at least that’s my impression from her opening scenes. But she is continually emotional – sparing people, commiserating with their targets, joking around with other operatives. As a viewer I’m supposed to assume her emotional moments are to do with the fact that she has a uterus, but I just don’t buy that. She’s supposed to be the rational character of the set, the one who bails Valerian out, but at the end she’s the one pleading with him to be irrational. If her behavior starts to discernibly change because of sharing a body with a grieving, undead alien – well, that would be a far more interesting story to me, and give Valerian a lot more motivation as well.