Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets opens today in cinemas nationwide. Following is a review of what works and what doesn’t in the film. Don’t let me spoil it for you though if you haven’t yet caught it. You are warned.
The story basically tells of two human intergalactic government agents go through some hardships during their missions and find their happily-ever-after by the end, after learning of a secret kept by their commander. In between, they discovers a cosmic race known as Pearls, who were nearly wiped off their existence as they were caught in the middle of a war fought in space. The commander goes out his way to ensure his war crime won’t be uncovered, while the Pearls seek to rebuild their livelihood with the help from the two lovebirds.
Parodies. We love parodies, don’t we? Pearls are basically the “white” version of Na’vis of planet Pandora. Major Valerian runs through various obstacles in a super-human suit, think Saints Row IV. Spaceship flying through tight gaps firing at alien spacecraft? Sure sounds a lot like Independence Day. Spaceship approaching the docking station ala The Matrix Revolutions. Fat, ugly blob of a monster? Yup, that’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Times Square-like views from atop of buildings. Hey didn’t Luc Besson already showed us that in The Fifth Element?
Comic relief. Some jokes are indeed amusing and that’s hard to achieve when most of them are recycled. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is guilty of that. The relief comes from a trio of “pigeons” seamlessly finishing each other’s sentences is refreshing when most of the time, such a roles is performed by an individual and gets hackneyed 30 minutes into the movie.
Cara Delevingne. Her young acting career is really blossoming. The role requires make-believe emotions, a fine balancing act between being professional and lovey-dovey. She nailed it.
First half. I rate this 9/10. The visual fest is an awe-inspiring ocular experience. The storyline development is a slow burn that will convince audiences to invest time into it. More on the second half later.
Social causes. Don’t we adore these in the politically correct times? A playboy who treats women as sex objects, has a female soul planted in him, discovers his feminine side and finally devotes himself to a woman. Preaching about making love and not war? Checked as well. More on that later though.
Tribal influences. The filmmaker could have gone out his way to make a million strange creatures and duplicate them, but he didn’t. He toned it down and incorporated some less-explored cultures from our own planet such as Maasai and Bodi tribes.
Rihanna’s role. She did very well in the limited amount of time she had. In that 15 minutes, she showed off her wares, told her interesting past, helped the lead and brought some humour to the scenes. Then she died. Abruptly. Turned into ashes and puff, vanished! I feel cheated.
Second half. After buying into the storyline and awaiting the next intriguing development, they decided to summarise the script and reveal to us the entire plot in five minutes in the form of a group dialogue complete with exaggerated expressions (I am looking at you Clive Owen). Halting the momentum of what had been built and killing the excitement of what was going to follow thereafter. Even worse is the ensuing climax that wasn’t much of a climax. It’s like how The Matrix franchise descended from the well-written first instalment to a mindless military operation in the third film, all in two hours and 17 minutes.
Make love, not war. Utterly simplistic views of military commands, the laws and battlefield psychology summed up in a three-minute two-way dialogue between conflicted lovers.
Clive Owen. The scenes of him tied up while yelling to be released are just cringe-worthy.
Skyjet. A single-seat spacecraft brought to life by Valerian’s creative team in collaboration with Lexus. The pursuit was fun. Although I can’t imagine a carmaker being too happy with its vehicle losing control in high speed and subsequently crashed. But hey, the lead survived the crash. At least that contributed some positive light to the safety ratings.