Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Luc Besson returns to epic sci-fi with Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets , 20 years after his masterpiece, The Fifth Element. Does he manage to recapture the magic?

Lets get real. I really liked Valerian. I feel like I maybe shouldn’t have, but it definitely worked for me on a lot of levels.

I’m a long time fan of Luc Besson, the French director behind Valerian. Since the 90’s Besson has been making truly bold, original and exciting films. From Léon (The Professional) and The Fifth Element through to Lucy, Besson has always given us something different. He may wear his influences proudly, but always gives all of his films his unique touch.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an adaptation of a 1960’s french comic, that has apparently been a huge influence on Besson’s work. Having not read the books, I can’t really assess that, however, I did see a lot of The Fifth Element in Valerian.

Hundreds of years in the future, humans are exploring the universe and are part of an intergalactic government. Dane Dehaan’s Valerian is a Human Federation agent, who, along with his partner Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are basically the space FBI.

Valerian and Laureline are given a mission to retrieve stolen property, which leads them into a web of mystery, deception and CGI Aliens. The story is pretty thin, so revealing too much would almost certainly spoil it for you. However, Valerian is one of those movies where it’s more how things happen that makes it enjoyable. Everything is leading to Alpha, the titular City of a Thousand Planets. The opening titles of the film show Alpha’s creation and evolution set to Space Oddity by David Bowie, which really sets the tone for the next two hours. Spaced out and trippy.

There’s an extended scene of a heist that takes place in Big Market, a shopping market in an alternate dimension, only visible with special glasses. It’s fantastic and crazy and totally wonderful. It also introduced some alien villains, Jabba the Hutt-esque and surely planned for a potential sequel.

Paper thin plot aside, Valerian is a pulpy space opera. Besson is clearly having a great time behind the camera, even if Dehaan’s Valerian comes off a little flat. He comes across like Keanu Reeves-lite. Cara Delevigne seems to have had some flack in the press, but I really liked her as Laureline. She’s impossibly beautiful, of course, but comes across more as a self assured hero than I expected. Besson always has strong female characters, even when they’re portrayed as a sidekick. (Leeloo Dallas Multipass anybody?)

The supporting cast was strong, yet filled with baffling choices. Herbie Hancock as the head of the Federation, Ethan Hawke as a super flamboyant, sassy pimp and Rihanna as Bubble the shape-shifting alien were all great but so randomly placed. It was great seeing Clive Owen pop up too, a great actor who elevates every film he’s in. Bonus points go to Besson’s casting director for a Rutger Hauer cameo too, still criminally underused these days.

I do understand why not everyone would like Valerian. It’s slow. It’s weird. The chemistry between the leads is a little flat and the dialogue is unrealistic and odd. However, its very stylised and totally unapologetic for what it is. Sadly, as it looks like it’s going to flop, we wont get to see any further adventures of Valerian and Laureline. Which I think is a great shame. I do think we will see a critical reappraisal of Valerian in a few years, this is a film that will find its audience eventually.

Packed full of amazing creature design, glorious visuals and Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score, Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets is a stunning Sci Fi adventure, retro futurism at its finest.

8/10

For Fans Of:

The Fifth Element

Star Wars

Blade Runner

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm, 2016)

Directed by: Gareth Edwards 

Written by: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy from a story by Gary Whitta and John Knoll 

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk,  Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen and Mads Mikkelsen. 

I’m going to level with you going into this review. I loved Star Wars as a kid. It was like a religion to me. I lived and breathed it. I had all the figures, I devoured the expanded Universe novels, comics, video games and I even read Star Wars magazine. 

Then we got the prequels and my love dimmed a little. It happens, we all have our phases. I still saw them all at the cinema on release day. First showing if possible. My love dimmed, but like how I feel about New Order, Diet Coke and Pop Tarts, my Star Wars love never fully left.

 

Last year’s The Force Awakens re-energised my feelings for Star Wars, as I’m sure it did for the rest of the planet. It was an exciting trip down memory lane with enough new bits peppered along the way to keep you hooked for Episode VIII.  Moving forward! Not back to suffer more needless stories we already knew the end to. 

I was somewhat hesitant about Rogue One, I’ll admit that. We didn’t need more prequels. Except, it turns out being a prequel freed up Rogue One to be it’s own thing. 
By having such a definitive end point, Rogue One has no choice but to make its characters and story interesting. It simply wouldn’t work otherwise. 
The story itself is remarkably streamlined, the engineer who designed the Death Star, Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen as a weary Oppenheimer style character, is forced to return to the Empire and finish his work. 

The villain who abducts him is played rather deliciously by Ben Mendelsohn, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors these days. His daughter, Jyn (A stony faced Felicity Jones), is taken in by Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (the incredible Forest Whittaker). After the defection of an Empire shuttle pilot reveals Galen’s plan to destroy the Death Star, a plot is hatched to get the plans and blow that hunk a junk out of the sky. 

The action scenes are huge and more importantly they all serve the story. A Death Star test on Jedha is uncomfortably visceral, while Donnie Yen taking out a platoon of Stormtroopers single handedly, hands a dose of martial arts realism to the Galaxy far, far away. 

Oh, Darth Vader is in it too. But I’m not gonna spoil that. Or any of the other cameos. 

What I liked most about Rogue One,  is that it felt like the Star Wars I knew as a kid. Gritty, dirty, lived-in worlds, characters with depth. This is a movie that works in tones of grey, not all the heroes are heroic and the villains aren’t one note mustache twirlers. 

To see the Rebels portrayed as killers and terrorists was a shock, how many blockbusters would let you see their main good guys murdering people and being devious. Nor would I expect to see one with as much sympathy towards its main villain. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor is ostensibly our main male hero, yet is a bit of a dick at first, before winning both Jyn and the audience over. It’s a bold move but it pays off well by the climax. 

The diverse, ensemble cast is another factor in why Rogue One works. From Alan Tudyk as the hilarious (and badass) droid K2SO to Donnie Yen’s blind warrior, who while not being a Jedi is strong with the force, everyone just works. Riz Ahmed as Bodhi, the defecting pilot is also noteworthy. I’m a big fan of Riz, so it’s cool seeing him in a movie this size. 

It’s great seeing different ethnic backgrounds represented in a Star Wars film without them being heavy handed stereotypes. 

 I really felt a bond between the Rebel team, somewhat echoing  Saving Private Ryan. To be a total cliché, it puts the war in Star Wars. Thematically, Rogue One goes back to the World War 2 films that inspired the original Star War and has more in common with the likes of Fury than it does Attack of The Clones. 

A lot has been said about the reshoots Rogue One underwent over the summer, but, it worked. Disney gambled and had another crack at the movie and it’s paid off huge. The story that got out was that Jyn was too arrogant and hard to empathise with. None of her “I Rebel!” stuff from the trailers made it into the finished film so maybe that is the case. I liked Jyn so the reshoots clearly did their job. I found Felicity Jones the right balance between world-weary and vulnerable. Never a princess in peril. Never needed rescuing. 

The creative team at Lucasfilm really do love the Star Wars universe, it’s apparent in all the care taken to ensure every new Star Wars project is perfect. If you enjoyed Rogue One, make sure you catch up with Rebels,  the animated series set around the same time frame.
For me, this is the type of Star Wars film I’ve waited my whole life for, and it goes in 3rd in my ranking of the movies. Behind Empire and A New Hope,  above The Force Awakens and Jedi. But this is on first watch. I feel it could rise on a second viewing. 

It’s a Star Wars film for the die hards, filled with easter eggs and pay offs, but more importantly, it works for people who’ve never seen any of the others. Which is why Disney is going to have huge success with the stand alone films. I can’t wait for Han Solo already. 
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out in Cinemas now 

5/5  
The best Star Wars movie since 1983

For Fans Of :

 Fury 

Star Wars Episode IV 

Inglourious Basterds 

Star Wars Rebels 

Moana (Disney, 2016)

Directed by: John Musker and Ron Clements 

 Screenplay by: Jared Bush 

Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwyane Johnson, Rachel House, Temeura Morrison and Jemaine Clement.

Songs and Music by: Mark Mancina, Lin Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i

Moana is the latest, animated, no doubt soon-to-be classic from Walt Disney Animation. Directed by the two guys behind The Little Mermaid, The Princess and The Frog and Aladdin,  Moana had high expectations laid out for it. 

The tale of a young girl, a High Chief’s daughter, dreaming of being able to leave her island and see the world. Moana herself, is probably Disney’s most well rounded “Princess” in, well, ever. 

Her story isn’t particularly groundbreaking,  but it’s told with such passion and heart, it’s hard not to become enraptured with Moana and her supporting cast. The gist, is that thousands of years ago, a demi-God stole the heart of a  life creating Goddess causing death and decay to spread across the seas. Moana has to disobey her father, find this Demi-God and save the world.

Of course, the Demi-God is the mischievous Maui, played with charismatic swagger by The Rock himself, Dwayne Johnson. His chemistry with the outstanding Auli’i Cravalho is what keeps the film so vital and energetic. Their banter and butting-heads makes you laugh and makes you cry, truly wonderful.

Moana’s grandmother, Gramma Tala, played by Rachel House was my personal favourite character and probably the best representative of the film as a whole, hilarious and bursting with a huge heart. Her songs are meaningful and move th story along. Like Yoda or Obi Wan, she dispenses wisdom to our young heroine.  

I couldn’t talk about Moana without mentioning the incredible songs by Lin Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. I make no secret of my love for Miranda’s Hamilton,  which was why Moana caught my attention in the first place. 

The songs in Moana range from tribal island and traditional Pacific vocals, through Hamilton-esque ensmeble tracks, as well as the phenomenonal “Shiny” by Jemaine Clement from Flight of The Conchords. No spoilers on his part or the song, but fans of FOTC will be very pleased. 

For what most would see as a “kids film”, Moana is filled with sharp wit, great action and astonishing visuals.

In fact, Moana reminded me more of Mad Max Fury Road than it did the likes of Frozen or Tangled, both of which are great movies. You’ll see what I mean when the Kakamora, the little coconut armored pirates show up. Walking out of the cinema I was thinking to myself that it’s almost a Disney version of Clash of The Titans! The old, good, Clash of The Titans of course. 

Moana just feels on that next level. With Dwayne Johnson turning in a Robin Williams in Aladdin level performance, some truly outstanding songs and insanely good animation, Disney have proved they are head and shoulders above their competitors. 
Moana is easily in my Top 10 films of the year, I’m sure it would rank in yours too  
5/5

For Fans Of:

Frozen 

Mad Max Fury Road 

Waterworld

Hamilton 

Flight of The Conchords