Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is inspired by the French graphic novel that follows two intergalactic special operatives that are sent on a mission to save the metropolis of Alpha. As the two work to solve the mystery of the unknown threat, they must come to terms with their own relationship.
I haven't read the French graphic novel, but considering the accolades it has received, it's fair to say that Luc Besson's live-action take was filling some big shoes. It took too long for us to catch this scifi flick, but the early reviews didn't have us rushing to catch it. But, despite the poor reviews and obvious lack of horror, it's a pure scifi piece we have to take a look at.
One of the common themes in the graphic novel, from what I've read, is the hot/cold flirtatious exchange of its lead protagonists in Valerian and Laureline. Their witty banter and love/hate relationship stokes the flame of the novel, and was somewhat progressive in its views of feminism and the like. I don't get any of that from Besson's film, and it is by far its greatest flaw.
The film lacks chemistry between its two leads, and when half of the plot is devoted to their interactions, it makes an otherwise entertaining and effective film disjointed and disengaging. The script deserves a lot of the blame, shoving character exposition and motivation in your face at an insulting degree. There are times where it feels like they want to make sure the 5-year olds of the audience can understand the dynamic between the two. It's embarrassing.
Then, to top it off, Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan have virtually no chemistry. Their stagnant deliveries feel like they're reading their lines from cue cards just off camera. So, just like them, we are forced to drone on through their cold, forced dialogue until the action begins again.
The plot and action depicted therein is spot-on, brilliant and beautiful. The world(s) created and the monsters and aliens that fill the space are a sight to behold. I enjoyed the visuals more than I thought I would from the trailer. Something from the trailers made me feel like it was almost too much focus on spectacle, but it's more engaging and personal. This is the part of the film that feels like a Besson original, and I think it works.
I think people forget that The Fifth Element wasn't generally well-received when it was released. Its cult following wasn't so big back in the 90's. Even I, admittedly, had to take a couple of viewings to appreciate the breadth of the film outside of Gary Oldman. I feel that way about Valerian. It's clunky, it's awkward, and it's a campy good time when you quit taking it seriously. If it wasn't for that doomed attempt at a dynamic relationship, this film could've been great, dare I say it.
But sadly, that relationship freezes over and it makes the rest of the film falter badly, because their screen time together is too big to ignore, it makes the film unwatchable on repeat as a whole cinematic adventure. It's unfortunate, because there is a good chunk of gold in this mountain of character malaise.