Well, it’s no secret that Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets is a top-notch dud. And an expensive one at that, with an astounding budget of between $177-210m. As of this writing, it’s only made about $36m domestically. That’s a staggering punch to the chin for Luc Besson. But considering his recent work with similar fail-waffles like Lucy, it’s not entirely surprising.
All that said, Valerian has been getting kicked in the unmentionables by critics far and wide. And I’m here to join in, with a few reasons why you shouldn’t waste your hard earned money made in Trump’s America to watch this movie.
Really Bad Acting, Like Really Bad
In 2012, Dane DeHaan wow’ed us in Chronicle. His creepy look and neurotic, but ultimately understandable, character made for a good watch. Too bad none of that shit translates in Valerian. As Major Valerian, his perma-Batman voice and dickbag antics do anything but endear us to him. Unlike Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and even A Cure For Wellness, where his creepy-uncharisma makes for good watching, DeHaan’s shtick drains the lifesblood out of what should be a rollicking, welcoming role in Valerian. Which, when you add in the dearth of talents that Cara Delevigne has in the acting department, makes for a lukewarm soup. In 2016, Delevingne showed us how *not* to milly rock in Suicide Squad, as the well-CGI’d and poorly thought-out Enchantress. In Valerian, she plays Sergeant Laureline, abandoning viral New York dances for pale one-liners and limp dialogue that’s about as flat as ya WCW’s feet.
Together, their lack of chemistry threatens to tear the movie apart at every turn. The only thing that makes it worse is the three-way bad acting bonanza that occurs when these two share a death scene with Rihanna. All love to Rihanna. But the woman can’t act (yet) to save her life, pun intended. It’s simple math that Besson couldn’t seem to do: when you have a non-actor, make sure you have actors who can carry them through a scene or two. Putting three people with bad acting skills in the same scenes is like dividing by zero: it just won’t work!
The Driest Romance Since Lotionless Handjobs
Valerian is based on a French comic book series. I wanna read it. But we’re talking about the movie adaptation here. And sadly, in Valerian, they had the audacity to push a love story where there wasn’t even the *idea* of a spark between their leads. With the most lame of proposals, Valerian pursues Laureline romantically throughout the movie. During this time, we’re introduced to a sad cycle of abuse wherein Valerian often physically restrains Laureline while coming onto her. And that’s just at pivotal moments: the majority of their interactions grasp for comedic romance and end looking like “How to Spot Sexual Harassment In The Workplace” roleplay. Due to this, the consummation of their newfound love in space at the end of the movie, is about as believable as jackalopes and Trump’s health care solutions.
Weird Pantsuit Nation Savior Stories
Speaking of unbelievability…Valerian has a shaky story that – if they had done a couple more rewrites – would be passable (enjoyable even!) Since you probably don’t care: A race of pearl-people (no, really, they’re called The Pearls) lose their planet to a war sparked by humans who try to cover it up. The Pearls are vaguely Native American/African and spend decades forgiving the crimes of humans so they can build a new homeworld. It’s like Avatar, but…not.
Alas, this whole saga lands on a commander, Clive Owen, who did the cover up being captured by The Pearls. Because they’re still noble savages who are primitive and forgiving, they leave the fate of their entire fucking species in the hands of two white people they met only a few days ago. Together, Valerian and Laureline must decide to either expose the commander or let the authorities handle it and potentially put the entire Pearl race at risk.
Valerian leans toward authority, because he’s “a soldier.” It takes Laureline trying to explain basic notions of justice, empathy and “love” to him for him to agree to helping The Pearls. It’s supposed to be an uplifting, emotionally heavy scene – Laureline cries, yelling white-woman-ly into Valerian’s face, letting him know that she was told by Apple Care that these space savages deserved respect as beings and sometimes you have to pay for the sins of your species.
I already brought up Avatar, but at some point sci-fi has to stop being the playground for white feelings. White readers, say it with me now: “no amount of fictional storytelling will assuage the pain of the crimes that people who share my racial identity systematically perpetrated against numerous nations, peoples and the like.”
Seriously, I get the impulse. But I’d rather see some real-life reparations than a half-baked movie about how why White People™ still have capacity for goodness.
Worldbuilding For Franchise-Sake, Not Narrative
Speaking of goodness, Valerian could’ve been way better if it was made with the intention of being a single-run story. Everything about it, from the storytelling to the setup of the world itself, feels disingenuous. Instead of making things interesting for the sake of the story, Valerian feels like it’s building a backyard playground just so you’ll come back for the sequel.
It’s a shoddy, flashy and dangerous bet, but Luc Besson et al still thought the house would win, standing at the entrance saying “come on in, welcome to BIG MARKET!” Because, what’s a good sci-fi film if it can’t be converted into an assembly line of stories for FRANCHISEMENT?
Lack Of Investment In Its Good Parts
To continue on goodness: Valerian has some really, really good moments. From the trio of aardvark flying monkeys (seen above) to the “get psychic powers by putting your face in this jellyfish butt” to the attention spent on all the intricate facets of the space station, there are plenty of good bits. And yet, it seems that Besson & Co were more interested in creating a fantastical attraction of distractions so that you wouldn’t notice the terrible acting.
By trying to grasp for FRANCHISEMENT and a star vehicle for Delevigne and DeHaan, the creators of this film lost the forest for the trees. The world of Valerian is incredibly rich and it deserved to at least have someone behind it who wanted it to be shown in its best iteration first, and everything else second.
Alas: mediocrity of the white kind and a lemmings approach to fantastical/sci-fi/superhero filmmaking in Hollywood will always yield a mouth full of sawdust and a pocket full of chocolate coins that are half-melted.
If chaos is a ladder, Valerian fell the fuck off, hard, tumbling with record speed into a pit of what is sure to be a mix of cult-favoritism, Razzie Awards, memes and more regrettably financed films. Which sucks. It could’ve been something great, now and later.
Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following: IG | Twitter