“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” is a proverb that needs no introduction. As human beings, it is natural for us to admire the works of others and attempt to emulate or copy the things which inspire us before eventually coming up with something distinct and original which we can call our own. This can be also be said in the film industry, with many great films building upon their predecessors by copping various elements from them.
However, the late Oscar Wilde expanded on the renown proverb, having famously said “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness”. People end up imitating others to the point of being mere mediocre imitations with no soul or originality. Unfortunately, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one such example of that mediocrity.
In many ways, the film seems to copy too much from many of its contemporaries. The visuals in Valerian are pleasing and by no means shabby, but one would be forgiven for mistaking the first 20 minutes of Valerian for the beautiful world of Avatar. Everything, from the looks of the Mul race to the lush landscapes look too similar to James Cameron’s masterpiece. The film also attempt to imitate the work of another famous James – in this case, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy – by copying the supposed swag of the characters, but without the swag.
When Valerian isn’t busy trying to imitate others, it totally under-utilizes or even misuses its assets. Dane DeHaan plays the titular character and despite being a magnificent actor, his potential is only hinted at in this film. There’s not much depth in his character and even the whole playboy persona which he is supposed to have feels more like a label rather than actual trait, as nothing he does in the film shows he is one or was one.
Then, there’s Rihanna…
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for having someone big or famous being featured in films. Oftentimes, the star attraction does add a lot to a film. However, in Valerian, the only moments we see her in human form is in the form of a rather cheapskate discount pseudo-strip-ish-tease/dance thing which is largely forgettable and annoying. It’s so annoying that even the supposedly playboy-ish Valerian looks disgusted and disturbed. When Rihanna is not busy being awkward, she spends her remaining screen time as a blue blob, which doesn’t warrant her inclusion in the cast. In fact, the scenes are so unimportant that the film could have been way better if she wasn’t in it, so that the money used to pay her could be used to develop, say, a better script or story.
There are also a lot of elements in Valerian which scream potential, but every moment the audience anticipates something, the film just kills the joy and moves on to something else. The whole part where they had to find the convertor creature thing and that whole inter-dimensional interaction scene in that part is beyond amazing, but that’s the only part of the film they explore it, when the creators could have easily cashed on it. There was so much potential with how the Muls were slowly incorporated in the middle part of the film, yet the creators had to kill things with a Star Wars-inspired alien brothel nonsense. Really, the producers seem to be better at producing teasers rather than an actual polished product.
It’s such a pity, because Valerian has a decent cast, an amazing director, amazing graphics, and even some amazing concepts with huge potential, yet the title seems to hint at this film’s biggest problem. When you have a city of a thousand planets and so much at your disposal, the one thing you’re absolutely going to lack is focus. This film lacks the focus needed to tie things together to create something special. Instead, there’s too much focus on trying to copy to the point where it feels like a rip-off.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy Valerian is to mute the audio. After all, when you have a vast city with a thousand planets, things can get pretty noisy, and noise can ruin the fun. Plus, in the first place, sound was never meant to travel through space.