So I’ve seen Valerian. While I enjoyed myself, loved the visuals and would love to revisit this world again, the movie is definitely a B- compared to The Fifth Element’s A in my books. At least upon first viewing. It definitely succeeded where something like Jupiter Ascending failed and has a lot going for it. The opening credits showing history unfold around Earth orbit is just great, as is the opening heist.
Warning: spoilers will creep in, so read at your own risk.
But I think the whole “marry me” thread was completely wrong for the movie (why not just have them a couple? No will-they-won’t-they or attempts at romantic tension, just an established couple.)
The “noble savage” trope that’s obviously present from even the trailers (shades of Avatar are hard to miss) is probably a cliche carried over from the source material, but to its credit isn’t as bad as other movies (SF or non-SF). The tropes are somewhat subverted. Somewhat. Unlike other stories where the white people have to save the natives or do the whole “being native” thing better than the natives (lookin at you Avatar, Dances with Wolves, Last Samurai, etc…), here you have them learning human tech faster than people, and the focus on the heroes isn’t saving them, but making things right.
Overall, the basic plot and “big reveals” are pretty obvious once you recognize the beats, and I suspect again it’s something that carries over from the stories Besson used to put together his script… which are decades old.
There’s a lot I can complain and nitpick about, but I don’t want that to underscore exactly what I thought was amazing about this movie. Much like the Fifth Element, there’s a lot of imagination that goes into every scene, and it’s something you can re-watch just to take in the nuance of everything that is implied. As I mentioned, Jupiter Ascending tried to do something similar, but it just fell flat on almost every front. I have no interest in seeing more of that world. Valerian, however, feels like a universe of interesting possibilities, and I’d love to see a sequel.
I’ve heard people say that the leads don’t seem to have real chemistry, but I disagree. This is definitely a Chris Tucker “It’ll grow on you” performance, I think. They come across as two people in sync with one another, professional, but with affection. It’s just the whole “marry me” subplot that throws a wrench into things. Seriously, a huge part of my problems with this film would evaporate if that had simply been left out.
But that professionalism can also be a problem. During the heist sequence, a number of their compatriots get killed. While I know they haven’t had time to get to know them, they are nevertheless completely unphased by this when they make their getaway. It’s straight back to quips and banter. This wouldn’t be a problem if they had gotten away from a suicide mission alive, but that not what happened here. The plan was always to have things go smoothly and things got fucked up.
Some people complained about Rhianna’s performance, but honestly, I thought she was fine… when she was in human form. She acted well enough as a person, but as a voice for a CGI character, it was another story. She sounded like she was a secondary character in a Dreamworks animated movie.
I can’t comment on the film as it compares to its source material because I never read any of the comics, but this movie does make me want to check out some of the core graphic novels out there, which I have no doubt will be easier to get a hold of now.
But one thing I have to remember is that I didn’t initially like The Fifth Element as much as I do now. Chris Tucker grated on my nerves from his first scene to his last and I thought it got a little too silly at times. It was upon re-watching it over the years that I realized just how well it actually all worked, comedy, craziness and even Ruby Rhod. Maybe Valerian will age similarly well? Maybe.
The reason I wanted to like Jupiter Ascending is because I wanted to see room for another space opera universe other than just Star Wars. While it failed, I think Valerian shows great promise, and largely succeeds, but sadly it seems that the box office is going to make a sequel all but impossible.