If there’s one thing we love talking about here at Save the Movies, it’s movies that we feel are underappreciated and unloved. Our selection varies wildly in that regard, and it usually comes down to some film either Scott and / or I feel gets a bit of a raw deal in terms of common wisdom. Maybe it’s because of the always awesome LL Cool J (Deep Blue Sea). Maybe it’s because it’s a flawed masterpiece (Speed Racer). Maybe it’s because one of us really, really loves classic pulp (Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow). And maybe it’s because it’s a decent giant snake movie with a few interesting elements (Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid).
The reasons are always subjective. The films we choose spoke to us in some way, and we’re all-too-happy to discuss them with a more appreciative angle than usually expected.
This is the internet, after all, where snark rules and launching a podcast trying to unironically appreciate movies (some of them accepted as outright “bad”) is a risky bet at best.
But what about those movies that we don’t love that still have something interesting in them? A movie that I saw this very weekend: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It’s not good. Not exactly. It isn’t what I would call bad though. It’s mostly neutral, which is what I expected going to see it.
I can’t recommend Valerian. Not without qualification. It resembles Besson’s other sprawling sci fi epic The Fifth Element. Both films feature a bright, colorful future where technology is practically magic and the plot, such as it is, rushes forward with little concern for narrative justification. Things happen because they’re interesting, not because they’re sensible. Where both succeed is in creating familiar and alien futures full of bizarre possibilities.
Yet I found that I liked The Fifth Element quite a bit more. I wouldn’t consider it a smarter film, nor any more sensible than Valerian. It’s perhaps that Element knows it is light and overcompensates by filling the cast with broad characters that come across as more interesting than the really are. It’s buoyed immensely by terrific casting.
This is the movie that gave us Earth President Tommy “Tiny” Lister, who we all remember played Zeus in the Hulk Hogan classic No Holds Barred, and had Bruce Willis playing, well, Bruce Willis. This is a film where Gary Oldman affected a ridiculous accent and an even more ridiculous haircut and managed to get away with it. And Mia Jovovich was basically the pretty girl who doesn’t say much, beats up some people, and looks good doing it.
Valerian doesn’t have any of that. None of the actors are particularly interested in elevating their flat characters, with the possible exception of Rhianna as Bubble, the shape-shifting alien exotic dancer who imbues the film with a lot of needed life while she’s in it. She is perhaps the only character with enough life to care about, and not in the film nearly enough. Bubble could’ve been the LL Cool J of Valerian if only Besson had noticed.
So with Valerian, we end up with an energetic successor to Element lacking the character energy that ended up making Element a cult classic. Does this mean Valerian is a bad movie? I don’t know. For a lot of people who want simple answers, the answer will surely be yes. And I can’t exactly disagree.
But I did enjoy it. And not ironically, either.
The problem is that once I walked out, I didn’t find myself especially satisfied by it. More importantly, Element, despite its flaws, is very rewatchable. But Valerian, not so much. Although it does have some great sequences. I particularly enjoyed our hero using his power suit to literally crash through Alpha, charging through multiple environments in rapid succession. And the opening five minutes of watching a space station evolve through the ages into an international beacon of intergalactic cooperation is dynamite.
And Bubble was a lot of fun.
It’s unlikely Valerian will ever make it onto the podcast because while I feel the film is perhaps unfairly maligned, I can’t really call it a good movie. Yet for all its flaws, it’s no more vapid and weightless than the Transformers movies, and they make billions.
So see it if you’re interested in some cool visuals, and don’t mind spending time with some flat characters as part of the price of admission.
Oh, and No Holds Barred? That’s not technically a “good” movie either, but it’s brimming with character. Will we do an episode on it one day?
But then again…