Movie Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

“It’s like they took the even-numbered pages of a half-dozen sci-fi novels and put them into a Markov generator.” - my flatmate

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the dumbest sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen. It is so dumb that I’m having trouble with the usual main point of my reviews, which is who should see it.1 The shortest possible answer, then, is “nobody”; you should just go watch the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie again instead.

…except…

…I had so much fun complaining about this movie after it was over. Really, I was positively gleeful.

(comparison to xkcd's "Code Quality comic")

(this was the inspiration for my flatmate’s comment above)

I wouldn’t exactly say it’s “so bad it’s good”; usually when I think of that I think of something where I’m laughing as the movie is going, where you could do a good Mystery Science Theater 3000 over it. This just…wasn’t very good. The whole way through. I just enjoyed trashing it at the end.

I’m not sure if it was the worst sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen, but it was definitely the dumbest. The setups didn’t make sense. The conflicts didn’t make sense. The jokes didn’t quite fall flat but rarely resulted in more than a smile. The worldbuilding could have been good if it didn’t fall on us in datadumps whenever the movie needed more of it. The military chain of command didn’t make sense. The security protocols didn’t make sense. What was common knowledge and what was classified didn’t make sense. The various subplots throughout the over-two-hour movie had barely any effect on the outcome. And the outcome had barely anything to do with the rest of the movie.

Having piled through that paragraph, I’ll list some specific things that I did like:

  • The opening sequence, which was the usual “current space program becomes future space program” thing, set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. Except for the casual racism.

  • The erotic dance scene. Less because I’m into women and more because I thought as a scene it was very well done. (Yes, there’s an erotic dance scene. It’s pretty mild, though.)

  • Actually, just all of Rihanna’s character’s stuff. (Yes, that was Rihanna.)

  • The variety of alien species shown in Alpha.

  • Laureline is (almost) completely capable on her own—they actually are partners, and she gets her own screentime for a fair bit of it.

  • The seatbelt ritual.

And…that’s about it. Everything else was stupid and/or forgettable. Valerian is a worse version of Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who. Laureline is a worse version of Rita Vrataski from Edge of Tomorrow (the movie version of the character). And the plot is a ball rolling down the hill, badly hitting first one sci-fi trope and then another, with no particular purpose and no satisfaction at the end. The only reason to watch this movie is if you want to complain about it at the end like me.

I do want to comment on one thing specifically: my friend said the relationship between Valerian and Laureline strayed into “sexual harassment” territory, which I did not see. I think—I hope—that his opinion was because he expected them to actually respect their supposed professional/military chain of command, whereas I had assumed they were primarily partners, possibly even before joining the military together, and maybe even on/off lovers in the past. Laureline may not have been flirting with Valerian much, but she certainly seemed to have an established personal relationship with him anyway. But I hope this isn’t my BS detector just being wildly off—though it’s extra hard to tell because, again, the backstory wasn’t well-established, appeared through data-dumps, and didn’t particularly try to make sense.

(None of this excuses Valerian from being inconsiderate and generally a jerk.)

In the end, though, all three of us in the group agreed that Valerian’s problem was that it tried to be a serious movie with some comedic moments, and that it would have been a lot better if it were just over-the-top campy, a funny movie with some serious moments. Which is why I’d say to just watch Guardians of the Galaxy again instead.

(Oh, and the 3D doesn’t add much. May as well leave it out.)

  1. The music is also forgettable enough that I’m listening to the soundtrack of the latest Star Trek movie instead while I write this review (not particularly a fan of those movies either but the music’s still pretty good). ↩︎

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