Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
A universe without boundaries needs heroes without limits.
Amidst a slew of movie reviews that churned out the words "mediocre" and "worst ever" a little science fiction flick from a guy whose name I recognized popped out. So slathered was it in a rabble of unimpressed thoughts that I didn't manage to get it in my queue rotation until just now. I may not be expecting a return to The Fifth Element levels of fun, but I as usual expect a better movie that what has been sold to me from peers the world across - which seems fitting for a movie set in a city of a thousand planets. Grab your future pants, and lets take a jump into the mix and see what's on sale.
On display here is quite an array of things. As usual, I'll certainly get to elements that I don't like and do like, but for now, lets hop into something that's pretty well front and center through most the movie - them effects! More so than I can think of in any recent movies or games, there is such a mix of things on display here in just three locations - which at first sounds like such a conflicting statement. In all honesty however, one of those locations - and arguably the main one - actually consists of plenty of different little zones that can be drastically different. You want underwater? Classic space station? Weird glowing egg-tunnels and pleasure districts? This one place has it all! Even the smaller ship has some nice little features, and something like a "bland desert planet" is injected with a bit of extra zazz when an interdimensional marketplace that can only be seen and interacted with through special gear is shown to us.
The effects work on display for those locations and there various vehicles and inhabitants is also incredibly passable - sometimes better. A wide selection of aliens are shown right off the get go in the opening montage, with a nice mix of some looking incredibly on-set practical whether they are or not- I simply just am not sure. Some things are quite obvious in their composition, as is the case in most movies, but it's never Minotaur battle from Gods of Egypt bad. Things are plenty vibrant and colorful, and in a world where so many movies like to use the same drab color tables, it's a nice refreshing blast of palette. As noted, the many little sub-environments make for some more interesting eye candy later on - even if each might only be shown for a brief amount of time.
The diversity of the alien species is a nice touch as well. Although there are still quite a few humanoid species - a thing that everything from Mass Effect to Star Wars really suffers from - it still offers plenty of strange things like space jellyfish and lizard creatures and even one that looked quite like a jellyfish piloting a robot. Our main leads are both human though - as also is common in media - so you shouldn't have too much of a problem following the human-themed plot that's really driven by another species. It's probably a lot more simple when you watch it than the sentence I just spilled out, but sometimes I'm just not the best with words.
If you thought that last line was just a throw away comment about how I couldn't come up with a better thing to say, you'd be missing my sweet segue into the actors quality. There are a few times when it happens that a line gets delivered rather, well, dry. Maybe it's intended, maybe it's just the best take - I don't really know since I wasn't there, but sometimes a line can feel really phoned in. It's thankfully quite infrequently that it happens, but we also have a chemistry between our main two characters that doesn't quite ever hit it's mark. I've for sure seen worse, and I would at least buy that these two are partners doing their intergalactic agent stuff - but any of the romance stuff between them seems like such an offhanded thing from a character standpoint - regardless of how relevant it is to the plot or how useful it is at allowing the main character to grow. Of course, part of it might just be a side effect of "two people having been working together for who knows how long that we weren't privy to on screen," and some of it might have just been a few of those sub-par lines - but overall I had plenty of enjoyment with most the characters.
The plot itself isn't too overplayed, although it's certainly predictable when it starts trying to play it's mystery cards. A lot of the main complaints I used to hear about this was that it was rather "generic" in regards to a science fiction flick - and I can't necessarily argue with that, but I also don't feel that it's not good just because it isn't super original feeling - otherwise every sequel to anything would just be rubbish. Some of the details stay a little hidden and attempt at being surprises, but a lot of times it also is more because we don't know the universe all the way that such things happen. It never feels like much of a huge plot-hole, and the entire thing although it can be quite serious with themes of love and forgiveness and owning up to one's mistakes and greed still is largely quite a happy adventure feeling.
There's also one moment when a random modern weapon shows up and it kind of takes you aback - considering the rest of the security forces are armed with futuristic looking guns and robots armed with the same, robots I should mention I love the looks of. Costumes in general keep up the pace with the rest of the effects department, and honestly even a few earworm songs (such as Space Oddity) are planted in to keep you humming, although largely the music is a more typical movie affair - outside of the one weird dance number part that serves it's purpose but also feels a bit like it came out of nowhere. Plenty of chases and action scenes are shot well, with one giving the impression and feel of a long take - despite having been done probably more on the computer than anywhere else. It's constructed pretty well as far as movie go.
I like this movie. I had fun with the setting and wouldn't mind more - although to be fair I'm also not super impressed with the main characters. The dynamic works for the most part, but largely it's the characters interaction with other characters that are their better moments. The movie isn't exactly breaking any molds and burning super bright, but it's worth checking out for its own right. It's bright, it's colorful, it's relatively optimistic with plenty of aliens and landscapes to check out - and when it comes to science fiction, aren't those some of the best parts? Glue that together with some well put done cinematography and effects, and you have a fun movie night.