Tagged: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Box Office Democracy: Bottom 6 Movies of 2017

6. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

If this was just about wasted potential, Valerian would easily be on the top of this list.  There are five worse movies this year but none of them have a fraction of the visual artistry displayed here by Luc Besson.  Valerian has some of the best design I’ve seen in a movie all year and two of the most inventive chase sequences maybe ever.  It also features a terrible script that meanders forever over trivial nothing and merrily skips past dense plot without a moment for inspection.  I loved watching the action but I never really understood why any of it was going on.  Toss on top some of the worst chemistry I’ve ever seen between an on-screen couple (and honestly maybe Dane DeHaan isn’t ready to be a leading man) and this is an unpleasant movie to watch at any volume above mute.

5. American Assassin

I sincerely thought that we were past making movies like American Assassin now that we’re on year 16 of the obviously never ending War on Terror.  I assumed we were past movies that seemingly exist solely to demonize and dehumanize brown people on the other side of the world.  This is a movie with no nuance or subtext or anything.  It’s predictable, dreary, and the worst kind of weighty.  It depicts a world in which people are nothing but weapons for the nation as one we should want to be in.  It also runs for 15 minutes past any events of consequence happening and expects us to sit and care about literally nothing happening.

4. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

If you’ve ever seen those posts where someone feeds a computer a bunch of data about one topic or another and then the computer spits back an attempt at making original things of the same set, you could understand how they probably wrote the script for xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.  It’s trying to be every successful action movie of the last ten years all at once.  It has a multi-cultural cast, numerous exotic locations that all happen to be filled with parties full of white people, and a bunch of supporting and cameo roles given to people intended to draw in audience in foreign markets.  There’s nothing holding the movie together so it’s easily the most boring movie I’ve ever seen that also features trying to use an airplane to hit falling satellites.  Movies are more than the sum of their parts and XXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a great lesson in that.

3. The Mummy

I long for the days when studios would just make movies with the idea that they could make an obscene amount of money from them.  Now it seems like they don’t want hundreds of millions of dollars unless they know it directly leads them to the next 100 million.  There were fine ideas in The Mummy about a woman who would not be cast aside and wanted to seize absolute power to punish her family.  That character doesn’t get to exist on screen because we need develop Tom Cruise to be the hero of the Dark Universe and we need time for Dr Jekyll and for the people who hunt monsters.  It is needless and exhausting.  The Mummy might not be an objectively terrible movie but it is so impossibly frustrating it needs to be recognized here.

2. Ghost in the Shell

Just to get it out of the way: this movie would make it on to this list just because it’s racist and tone deaf.  Deciding, in 2017, that it’s a good idea to make a movie based on an iconic Japanese manga/film/media empire and cast almost exclusively white people is astonishing.  It’s an irredeemable failure solely from looking at the poster.  Then it’s not even a good movie.  They threw out all the stories they presumably licensed the material for and instead gave us a milquetoast cyberpunk paint-by-number.  When the studio found out the Blade Runner sequel would be released in the same calendar year they should have shelved the project until we all forgot what could be done.

1. Transformers: The Last Knight

I suppose I should have some respect for Michael Bay as an auteur at this point.  He can’t possibly be hurting for money.  Nothing would stop him from getting lazy and putting out shorter films to try and goose his grosses by squeezing in another showing.  Bay is going to make these monstrous, incomprehensible, films and they’re going to be exactly as he wants them to be and as long as he pleases.  It would be charitable at this point to call these movies pointless.  There’s definitely a point: People who know things are idiots and people who shoot things are awesome.  They’re never going to stop with these; we should all just adjust our lives to accommodate them.

Box Office Democracy: Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a stunning chasm between the quality of the visuals of a movie and the dreadful script tying it together.  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a gorgeous film with ambitious action sequences that can keep a frenetic pass without looking choppy or rushed.  It’s also got a plodding, boring script completely devoid of narrative or emotional nuance.  At its peak Valerian is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before— and in its valleys is like a Mad Libs version of Avatar and The Matrix.

The big action sequences in Valerian are stunning feats of direction.  There’s an action sequence where many of the characters involved are in multiple dimensions at once affecting what they can and can’t interact with.  There’s a suspense beat, a chase, and then several bits leading to another chase all in this multi-leveled reality bending circumstance.  Some characters integral to the operation don’t ever see or interact with the actual sequence.  It’s dizzying in all the best ways.  There’s also a chase scene that goes through all the different parts of this elaborate space station with dozens of alien races and their unique habitats that would have been the best sequence in every science fiction movie I loved as a child.  Luc Besson does an outstanding job framing these sequences and the effects team really outdoes themselves.  I don’t know how many of these alien races or habitats come from the source material, but it all looks tremendous.

It’s a struggle to praise the directing in Valerian when the acting is so terrible.  Dane DeHaan performs like he’s doing an impression of mid-90s Keanu Reeves and not a terribly flattering one.  He has the same flat delivery no matter what he’s trying to say.  He starts the movie with a declaration of love and it sounds like he’s barely awake trying to figure out what toppings he would like on a pizza.  I’ve never DeHaan impress me in a role and I’m starting to wonder what the casting directors of the world see in him that I don’t.  No one else in the cast is doing good work either.  Clive Owen is wooden, Rihanna was better in Home, and Cara Delevigne is acting like she can never remember the emotional tone of the last thing she said and has to guess for the next line at random.  It’s like everyone involved in the production was so invested in the effects they couldn’t be bothered to care about the people.

The script is also quite bad.  The story takes forever to get going and it always feels like key pieces of information are kept out of the characters hands not because it makes sense in the universe but because otherwise the whole thing would take 30 minutes to resolve.  The love story seems tacked on and only moves forward because they have Valerian and Laureline tell us it does and not because we see them do anything to move closer together.  I suppose I could accept that they’re going through a lot but this is their job, they must be in harrowing situations all the time.  There’s also a healthy dose of the kind of noble savage bullshit that I’m sure was all the rage in France in the 60s when this comic started publication but feels terribly tone deaf in 2017.  Even beside that the dialogue is 80% dry exposition delivered with the cadence of someone bored of being there.  Every time someone talks in Valerian the experience gets worse and worse.

It would be amazing to find out something like Valerian syncs up perfectly with a famous album or something because it would be nice to watch the movie again without having to listen to any of these characters talk.  I want people to see this film, it’s so fun to watch when it’s on top of its game.  Unfortunately it’s just as terrible when it isn’t.  Valerian is a film that should be watched in a theater, on a big screen, but only by people who paid to see another film and have sneaked in with good headphones and a podcast on or something.  This movie is a technical demo for what good effects people and cinematographers should do, and a cautionary tale for writers and actors.  Study hard, film students and drama majors— or else you could end up making a film like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and be trapped forever in pretty nonsense.