Way back in the 90s when I still smoked, I could tell how bad a movie was by how many times I left the theater for a smoke break. The record was four smoke breaks for Face/Off. If I were still a smoker today, I just would have spent the whole two and a half hours of Valerian out back smoking an entire pack of Marlboro Reds.

Spoilers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follow.

Sometimes a filmmaker’s later works simply serve to amplify smaller weaknesses hidden in his early films. For instance, George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels seem to be made entirely out of the poorly staged action and badly written dialog that you can find in the original films when you look hard enough. And let’s be honest, you don’t have to look that hard in Return of the Jedi.

Remember the annoying interruption to the narrative in The Professional when the hitman and the little girl take ten minutes to play charades? Or when we had to watch the blue lady’s entire aria? Or Ruby Rod’s entire existence in The Fifth Element? Or the entire move based on a common misconception the humans only use 10% of their brain?

Seeing Morgan Freeman reduced to repeating the same stupid line over and over was enough to send me into a deep depression akin to having seen Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue see.

“She’s using 20% of her brain!”

“She’s using 30% of her brain!”

And so on.

Luc Besson has reached the nadir of his career by making a movie that is nothing but those awkward scenes, narrative detours, retreads from other, better Science Fiction movies, and stiff dialog.

It was telling that Valerian was exiled to the smallest theater at the Drafthouse for its opening weekend. Even more telling were the audible groans from the audience every time the story would take a sudden right hand turn away from the story and veer into yet another manufactured obstacle meant only to give Besson time to ogle some pointless set piece filled with his unique but tired visual style.

The utter lack of chemistry between the two leads doesn’t help, either. It’s hard to tell if it’s just the ESL dialog or bad acting, but either way, their relationship is emotionally disengaged. That they are stock characters without depth locked in a stock relationship from a past century (he’s a playboy who can’t commit, she’s the woman defined by his desire for her) caused me to have trouble making a connection to them, the story, the outcome, what I was seeing.

Two and a half hours is a lot of time to be in a movie theater. It’s extra long when you don’t care about the movie you’re seeing.

I should have gone to see Wonder Woman again.


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