Luc Besson, visionary director of The Fifth Element and the man who brought us classic Euro-style thrillers Nikita and Léon, has waited years to make Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. It's the film he always wanted to make. And when a director says that, you know it's bad news.
Valerian isn't a bad film in the way, say, Batman And Robin or Catwoman were bad. It gets things wrong in peculiar ways, not through lack of budget or technical skill but through inexplicable decision-making. It's a very recognisable kind of wrong, familiar from the misfires of The Fifth Element but far more numerous and persuasive, and without the charisma of a Bruce Willis or Milla Jovovich to keep it going through the nonsensical parts.
It's a very Luc Besson sort of wrong.
Perhaps it's just the case that France's most financially successful director had no collaborator to act as a filter, or lacked the constraints of a tighter budget to force him to make creative decisions.
Whatever the reason, Valerian gets it wrong in a lot of ways. A lot of strange, unfathomable ways.
10. The City Isn't That Interesting
Alpha, the Thousand-Planet City of the title, is supposed to be one of the marvels of space, a vast melting pot metropolis of thousands of sentient aliens. Those aliens, however, seem perfectly happy living in a drab, mostly dark blue mass of indistinguishable industrial architecture which hurtles by at the speed of Besson's fastest camera dolly anyway.
There's a red light district and a brothel with swanky rococo furniture. They have those on Earth, too. The command centre, where the city's leaders look sternly at each other and announce pieces of the plot, is composed of the same stark white corridors that were old hat when Darth Vader strode down them looking for Princess Leia. The few truly original flashes are of exterior shots, glimpsed on grand flybys that quickly give way to the generic crowded city murk.
The city as promised is a conglomeration of architecture, sights and wonders from a thousand worlds. Instead it all looks depressingly samey, like the Los Angeles of Blade Runner without the character.