Valerian Will Bring Out Your Inner Geek
‘Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Worlds’. It’s just so…French, that title, like ‘Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain’, which everyone ended up calling ‘Amelie’ before a backlash began against its perceived tweeness. The film was attacked by critic Serge Kaganski for offering a picturesque vision of bygone Paris with few ethnic minorities, although the director pointed out that one of the main characters, Jamel Debbouze, was very clearly of ethnic origin. The critics had failed to notice that ‘Amelie’ was a bizarre psycho-comedy which had scenes involving vibrators, mass orgasms and many autistic lists.
But French humour doesn’t travel, at least to Main Street USA, because ‘The Fifth Element’ ran into the same problem. First it was hysterically attacked in Hollywood by those fearing that Europe might steal their jobs, then it was dismissed for mixing comedy with SF because, you know, too complicated.
And so, Luc Besson’s long-gestating epic version of his favourite childhood bande dessinée is probably fated to die a death (initially, at least) in many parts of the world which think that ‘Transformers 5’ is an acceptable or remotely interesting way to pass the time while actually longing for the relief that death might bring.
‘Valerian’ would have been just another summer blockbuster in Hollywood, but it’s the most expensive European film ever made. The original artist, Jean-Claude Mézières, connects both ‘The Fifth Element’ and this, and the comparisons don’t end there. ‘Fifth’ was also the most expensive European film of its time and was critically mauled, but it went on to immense long-tail success and become the touchstone graphic-novel-to-cult-movie. ‘Valerian’ is very much cut from the same mould, but there are crucial differences.
Whereas ‘Fifth’ had dependable and identifiable Bruce Willis as a 23rd century cabbie, ‘Valerian’ is miscast, saddled with gruff Dane DeHaan, the faintly unlikeable and over-intense man-boy (despite actually being 31) who starred in the equally polarising ‘A Cure For Wellness’. DeHaan’s romantic conversations with femme lead, model Cara Delevingne are mawkish and as stilted as, well, the dialogue in most comics. Delevingne is at least smart, stunning, tough and dry-witted, but their romance lacks resonance, and in a post-‘Avatar’ world the surrounding barrage of visuals isn’t quite as faceplantingly awesome as it might once have been.
‘Valerian’ is probably as close as we’ll ever get to European graphic novels springing fully to life, from its goose-pimple fast-forward opening to its explosive close. Even the critics who hated it admit that the visuals are dazzling, and thanks to the strange mix of dazzling colour, humour and energy, it will probably age as well as the twenty year old ‘Fifth’.
And I keep coming back to those electrifying set pieces; the opening battle in a market that only exists in a different dimension, the multiple-wall obstacle course chase, Rihanna’s invisible pole-dancing jellyfish, the three odd creatures who constitute one mind, and a dozen other wild moments. Where ‘Fifth’ hinged the fate of the universe on someone trying to light a match, here we get a more traditional bomb countdown with soldiers, aliens and battles set to Alexandre Desplat’s superb score.
All of which surgically removes ‘Valerian’ from the mainstream, which likes its robots evil, its heroes dim and its battles simplistic. Personally, I don’t care whether the public catches up with it in time; I can’t wait to see it again, on a massive screen in 3D, so that all the details can be studied (like the tiny metal user-warning plates on the sides of the space helmets).
So – it’s the most expensive geek film ever made, it will improve with age, it has the joy of being as funny as ‘Fifth’, and thank the gods someone caters to us geeks instead of shovelling out another toy franchise.