Feat. The Music of Alexiane
“I’m not asking you to die for me. I’m asking you to trust me.”
That’s A Very Nice Hat
“1 minute 10 seconds, a new record!” exclaims a halfling sized creature that looks like a cross between the ugly duckling and a gargoyle. Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) dizzily removes a bulbous, blue fluorescent jellyfish from her head and collapses on the dock inside a Big Blue subterranean cavern.
Wearing this psycho-magical creature had allowed this attractive space agent a brief, but emotionally instructive glimpse of her equally attractive missing boyfriend, Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan).
As her psychology intersects with the spirit dimension, she loses her composure and begins crying.
To retrieve the jellyfish, Laureline hitched a ride on the yellow submarine with Bob The Pirate, a slovenly looking conglomerate of Marilyn Manson, Aqualung, and The Dos Equis most interesting man in the world.
I had about two and a half seconds to size up this Wayne Coyne costume before the man was dousing his face with a vigorously foaming bottle of champagne, and beckoning his passenger from inside the hatch.
Laureline’s fleeting tears after this harrowing ordeal offer us the first hint that either her or her partner harbors an emotional life, apart from that of perpetual Disgust and boredom. And they are shed no sooner in the film than the half way mark.
The 64 million dollar question is, was the emotional dead space by design? Or is it the tell that director, Luc Besson’s new sci-fi movie lacks depth? Both may be true. And it may not necessarily take away from your experience, especially if you are an avid fan of this tenured French action film director. It did take away from mine, however.
I’ve seen Besson’s other works: The Fifth Element (1997), Leon The Professional (1994), La Femme Nikita (1990), and Lucy (2014). And my sense is that depth has never been this filmmaker’s focus. In a Besson screenplay, “ooey-gooey” is far more likely to denote spilled human or alien guts, than it is a character’s sentimentalities. The beautiful irony is that, in his best films, sentimentality occurs nevertheless. This has much to do with the brilliance of the actors Besson has commanded previously.
What would The Fifth Element be without the cool charisma of Bruce Willis? Or the fearless audacity and delicacy of Milla Jovovic? Is there anybody in the Galaxy who could play Zorg better than Gary Oldman? So ruthless and calculating, and yet quirky in a manner that fits the film’s overarching style like a hand in glove. Oldman also lent his talents in The Professional, alongside Jean Reno and Natalie Portman who, cast at age 11, arguably steals the show.
In Valerian, Besson commands a whole new set of actors. Some fare better than others in this hyperactive, visually extravagant space opera. Veterans, Clive Owen (Children of Men) and Ethan Hawke (Gattica, Predestination) make the most of their limited screen time. Somehow I missed Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), but he’s in it, apparently. You can’t miss Rihanna, even as her alien character shapeshifts between a multititude of different life forms.
In my opinion the weakest performances came from the two young leads, Dehaan and Delevingne, as Valerian and Laureline respectively. Though, in their defense they aren’t given much to work with. Dehaan especially. His protagonist is a boyishly conceited, James Bond wannabe womanizer who is both bored and boring to watch. His arrogant, aloof demeanor, and the manner in which he touts his laundry list of sexual exploits, make his girlfriend want to punch him in the face at every turn seemingly (She isn’t the only one). Strange, For a boy who purports to have a girl living inside of him the entire journey, one would think she’d have made him a little less of a jerk. Oui? Noh?
Oddly enough, I get the sense this is exactly the weak male lead character Besson wanted. Perhaps to make commentary on our flailing millennial male generation, the prototype of which seems similarly inept in matters of love and interpersonal commitment. I do not believe we are wholly responsible for this shortcoming, and I do not think Besson believes this either.
Love is old, love is new
Love is all, love is you
Unless you can see love, how will you know its missing? Indeed we seem as blind to love as Valerian when Laureline pleads with him at the film’s climax. He thinks he understands love, and believes the concept to be less important than following the orders of his corrupt superiors.
But Laureline knows he does not truly understand this mysterious fifth element. She knows because she has seen its immeasurable power via the psychic jellyfish.
“No you do not understand…Love breaks all rules.” It transcends space and time. It stops wars. “I’m not asking you to die for me. I’m asking you to trust me.”
Besson fails to nourish this inspiring concept enough for it to have a significant impact on the audience’s consciousness, or at least mine. Valerian’s intended transformation from boy to man throughout the adventure is even less convincing.
Rather than prioritizing character development, more energy appears vested in the world building and visual engineering of the film. Indeed the true strength of Valerian is its gorgeous visuals, which rival those of James Cameron’s Avatar. This city of a thousand planets inspires a sense of wonder, like a great work of architecture. What does it mean that our young heroes do not seem the least bit impressed by any of it?
EFC 2.05 Soundtrack: “A Million on My Soul” by Alexiane
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Release Date: July 21st, 2017 (France/USA)
Director: Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon The Professional)
Writer: Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mezieres, and Luc Besson (The Fifth Element)
Composer: Alexandre Desplat
Starring: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rhianna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, and Rutger Hauer.
The Inside Out: Disgust (27), Anger (13), Sadness (9), Joy (6), Fear (5)