One of the most difficult things I had to learn was the concept of ‘piping’. My stories are frequently boring; long, meandering anecdotes which demanded a lot of investment on behalf of the audience for very, very little payoff. Piping is the material you have to cover before you get to the meat of the story and my stories had way too much of it.
Valerian has a lot of piping. Long, tedious explanations couched in clunky, awkward exposition. At one point, one of the characters openly asks Siri for random facts about her home city. ‘What is the population?’ she asks. Obviously, she’s going to a trivia night and she’s brushing up on her factoids.
There are lengthy explanations of particular mechanics of the world, only for those mechanics to be used for five minutes and then never mentioned again. Some characters have Tolkienesque introductions, only to deliver thirty seconds of plot before vanishing into the void. And there’s a 30 minute brothel scene.
The brothel scene is easily the worst moment of this film. The lead character’s girlfriend (or whatever) has been kidnapped by evil aliens who live deep within the heart of the city. She is in mortal danger because the evil aliens eat humans. These aliens live far beyond the reach of law enforcement, deep in the uncharted realms of the city. Oh, and there’s a brothel next door!
Our lead character apparently wants something from the brothel in order to rescue his girlfriend (or whatever), so it is convenient that the brothel is right next to the evil alien lair. Rihanna pole-dances for ten minutes, at one point transforming into a cat, while Ethan Hawke plays some kind of organ. It’s messed up. Somebody, somewhere, must have thought this was erotic. I need that person to be exiled to a monastery.
The whole film, truth be told, sits in the ‘Does… does somebody think this is erotic?’ worry zone. Glittery, slimy aliens form the central plot of the film (which is about fifteen minutes long). These aliens appear to follow human convention of the women having fantastic breasts and men being shirtless. The main character sort of wrestles with his girlfriend (or whatever) in a way that I suspect was meant to be playful but comes across as super-rapey. And there’s so much goddamn slime, the vast majority of which ends up on the female characters.
But when we pivot away from the ‘This belongs on your private hard drive and away from children’ moments of the film, we end up drowning in a kind of slimy political drama that completely and utterly fails to make any sense. In order to win a battle against some kind of space Nazi, a general accidentally blew up a planet. The general somehow managed to convince everybody that the planet was uninhabited but actually it was inhabited and there were (somehow) some survivors who are psychic magic geniuses at everything and they have come to rebuild their planet in a computer simulation (or something).
Anyway, it seems like the general had a good reason to act the way he did. While it might suck for the gliterry, slimy magic psychic space genius aliens, it looks like the destruction of the planet was an unintended consequence of using planet-destroying levels of weaponry on the Space Nazi’s battleship. Shit happens. The question is whether the collateral was foreseeable and proportionate.
But instead of going through processes that we have here on Earth, the general straight up murders anybody who knows that the planet was uninhabited. And when the magic, glitter slime aliens show up, he’s like: ‘Fucken, no way. They’re terrorists and actually they don’t exist and don’t look in this cupboard because I’m torturing one in there.’
The characters by this stage have been so poorly fleshed out that they all take a randomly shitty political position on the topic, mostly Tumblr-quality. ‘Colonialism is really wrong and bad and what about kittens?’ ‘If we don’t bomb every planet, maybe one of them will bomb us tomorrow?’ ‘Hi, I think colonialism is actually good if it means that we stop people from bombing us by bombing them.’
The whole film is demented. Luc Besson does not know how to make movies.