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The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element is your usual Bruce Willis movie that starts out in Egypt in 1934 and ends up in some fancy space hotel in 2334 with this blue skinned space opera lady singing opera and then busting off dance moves. Bruce is introduced down on his luck, pretty much like in the Die Hards – his wife left him, he’s trying to quit smoking, his mom won’t stop hassling him and he’s “5 points away” from losing his job as a flying cab driver in space age New York.

In fact this is a lot like a Die Hard movie except in a cartoony comic book space world instead of a building. Instead of talking to a cop on a walkie talkie, he just talks to his mom on the phone, and instead of terrorists there’s this big ball of fire hurtling toward the earth that turns light to dark, life to death, sometimes has a giant skull for a face, eats missiles and sattelites, and calls himself Mr. Shadow during phone calls.

The Fifth ElementIt’s a pretty simple plot. There are these four stones that combined with a perfect being called “the fifth element” can stop the ball of fire. These stones are in Egypt but then these fat robot guys come down from space and take them away for safe keeping. But then 300 years later they try to bring them back but their ship gets blown up by these muppet dog men. But the government finds a glove inside the ship and they use it to construct the perfect being, a hot orange headed gal named Leloo. So then she and a priest and Korben Dallas have to pretend they won this contest and go to the space hotel and the rocks are inside the belly of a singer so after she dies they take them out of the belly and there is a shoot out so they bring them to Egypt and do the whole ritual and whatnot.

The appeal of this picture is mainly visual. It’s a real spectacle like some artsy fartsy comic book some frenchy would do. Bruce doesn’t joke too much and he gets some corny lines like, “There are some very good words in V: valiant, vulnerable, very beautiful.”

But let’s face it the man looks cool even if a little gay. He’s got blond hair and he wears arm warmers. Later in the movie after the space opera there is a big shootout, so he is right at home in space.

Now this Leloo is a pretty young gal with freaky ass hair like Lola in Run Lola Run. She’s played by 1999 Outlaw Award Honorable Mention for Best Badass female Milla Jovovich from The Messenger and she seems completely real, hopping around like some kind of animal blurting out crazy japanese or some shit. See she’s this “perfect being” reconstructed by scientists, so she has to use computers to learn about earth culture, and she only speaks “the divine language.”

Now I might be imagining this but I seem to remember hearing a story about how this movie was made, I believe this girl was a wild child that they found out in the jungles of south america or something, they dressed her up and let her loose on the set and just filmed whatever she did. Now some would say this is cheating as far as acting like an alien goes and that’s probaly why she wasn’t eligible for an oscar for this piece. However if you’ve seen The Messenger story I think her english has improved quite a bit after being out in civilization for a while and she seems to be learning all the social rules, how to stand up straight and eat food properly and what not, although you can still see she’s a little crazy, a little wild. But I hope she is happy living out in the concrete jungle. Kind of a shame really, I think like Tarzan or King Kong this will inevitably lead to tragedy but what the hell, the little jungle girl makes a damn good Leeloo in my opinion.

There’s a lot of comedy type shenanigans in the movie that I don’t think are very good. There are three different parts where people faint, if that gives you an idea. At the end the president tries to talk to Bruce’s mom on the phone but she doesn’t believe he’s the president, and it’s just awful as far as being funny. But Leeloo is funny. And there is this scene, Leeloo has just been created in the lab but the scientists and soldiers are just busting her balls so she decides to just haul ass out of there, and the cops chase after her. Funny thing is, they know she’s this alien being just created in the lab two minutes ago, but they call her “lady” and get mad at her for not having an ID. Fuckin pigs man. Nothin changes in 300 years.

The casting in this movie is good. Not just Bruce and jungle girl, but they got this HUGE motherfucker Tommy “Tiny” Lister playing the president. This is a dude I would vote for in my opinion. There’s also this goofball playing Rhuby Rod, a superstar dj that dances around, sings, rhymes, and dresses like a lady. When he’s reporting live from the scene of a terrorist attack all he says is “Omigod, omigod, omigod, omigod.” Rest of the time he’s spinning around, going “bzzzt,” “super green super green.” I don’t know WHAT the fuck this freak is blathering about but I’m not surprised that shit is popular in the future. I mean look at Pokeyman.

There’s also Emannuelle Jean-Baptiste Zorg, right hand man to the evil ball of fire. This guy’s such a prick that when his adviser tells him they’re worried about the economy and want him to consider laying off 500,000 workers, he says, “Fire one million.” He has a hitler type haircut and wears a fancy plastic thing on his head, but he talks like Andy Griffith. This guy turns out to be a puss, though. His big scene where he almost dies – and I’m not joking about this – he’s sitting at a table flapping his big yap and then he chokes on a cherry. Like a true super villain he just barely survives that one by the skin of his teeth. But then he gets blown up by muppets before he even meets Bruce. And I mean why should Bruce have to bother with this pansy anyway.

It’s a goofy movie, but it’s a beautiful movie. It’s like if you take Die Hard, plug it into a wall, paint it blue and red and teach it how to fly, that’s the fifth element. You know what I’m talkin about.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 1st, 2002 at 6:36 am and is filed under Action, Bruce, Reviews, Romance, Science Fiction and Space Shit, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

78 Responses to “The Fifth Element”

  1. I’m glad to read you weren’t quite as taken with this thing as most of my generation is. For years I thought there must be something wrong with me, I’m the only person on Earth who doesn’t think FIFTH ELEMENT is super awesome. But now I know there are more of us. It’s time we came out of the shadows and proudly proclaim, “We are here, and we find FIFTH ELEMENT unforgivably shrill and underwritten, although not completely bereft of redeeming qualities!”

  2. Meh. It’s an OK movie. ‘Underwritten’ is a good word for it. It tries to have so much plot and do so many things and occupy so many different styles and tones it doesn’t really work out. But there’s nothing else really like it out there (and it imagines a world where Tiny Lister is President of the Universe) so I’m willing to cut it some slack.

  3. FIFTH ELEMENT seems kind of similar to HUDSON HAWK in my opinion, and not just because they both have Bruce. Same kind of silly action scenes, same kind of slapstick humor mixed with mawkish sentimentality and big-budget F/X.

    FIFTH ELEMENT does have some fantastic visuals at times though, especially the Earth through the huge window in the opera house, which is gorgeous.

  4. Mr. S – I thought FIFTH ELEMENT was quite decent for what it was: A Franco-churned STAR WARS knock-off. I mean is that such a bad thing?

    rainman – Except ELEMENT was more successful at what it was gunning for than HUDSON HAWK, if you ask me.

    Vern – review HUDSON HAWK

  5. Yeah, this one sure hasn’t aged well. Or maybe I was a lot dumber when I was younger.

  6. When I re-watched it a few years ago, I really didn’t like it that much anymore, but I re-watched it again yesterday and now I believe that it really holds up. It’s super bizarre and noisy and has some gaping plotholes (Like why do earth scientists randomly decide to take an alien hand and clone Leeloo with it or why does the “perfect being” look like a 14 year old boy, yet everybody still falls immediately in love with her) and totally fails at worldbuilding (Despite being played by Tiny Lister, the president seems to be a cool guy, yet the police on earth seems to be more of the facist kind, the way how they decide to use rockets against cab drivers and randomly raid apartment buildings.), but I enjoyed it a lot this time. The way it stuffs a million different SciFi concepts into one movie and goes from ridiculous to sentimental and back, makes it more or less the most expensive episode of DOCTOR WHO ever, only without the doctor.

  7. And yes, I love Chris Tucker in this one. I can see how he annoys certain people, but every single of his screams made me laugh like crazy!

  8. I always liked Chris Tucker in this one as well. It’s my third favorite performance from him behind FRIDAY & DEAD PRESIDENTS. I just always found it really fascinating that the combined essences of early 80s Prince and late 70s disco divas actually survived pretty intact almost 400 years into the future.

  9. I have this feeling that Valarian is going to be another one of those movies that dies a death on the big screen and a lot of the critics hate but that it’s actually pretty good. I feel like the movie could have used a movie star because I don’t think Dane DeHaan or eyebrow girl are actors anybody cares about.

  10. That’s the thing, FIFTH ELEMENT at least had Bruce Willis to encourage people to come along for the ride, that things weren’t going to get TOO crazy, Bruce will keep you safe and ground all the weird Frenchness.

    But the no names in VALARIAN aren’t helping and it’s obvious it’s going to bomb hard, which is too bad because it does look pretty cool.

  11. It also doesn’t help that “A film by Luc Besson” isn’t the event that it was 20 years ago. As much as I enjoyed many of his low brow “Luc Besson presents” movies, he kinda ruined his good name with it.

    But hey, as far as we know, this could also become this year’s AVATAR!

  12. I know, right? I remember how after THE PROFESSIONAL opened us kids couldn’t wait to get to school to discuss the lackluster box office returns. We were still young but even back then we knew they should have made it a four-quadrant film by casting Robin Williams and Macaulay Culkin hot off of MRS. DOUBTFIRE and HOME ALONE 2, ratcheting down the violence, and ratcheting up the hilarity. Just imagine how amazing those returns would have been. That pile of cash could have really been something special. Sometimes I still think about what a wasted opportunity that was. But it is what it is, I guess. I mean, yeah, okay, sure, the movie is a masterpiece but that’s cold comfort when I think of those poor stockholders and their middling opening weekend receipts.

    And apparently Besson learned nothing from that debacle since he seems to be doing it again with VALERIAN. These “artistes” that just want to cast actors that “fit the roles” for “the movie they want to make” instead of looking at the big picture really need to take a step back and think long and hard about why they are making movies.

  13. Not so sure it’s going to bomb. According to Besson, 96% of the film’s budget is already covered by pre-sales, so it’s only got to make something like $7.2 million to break even. Shouldn’t be too hard, worldwide.

  14. Hey, I don’t think you’ll find anybody here actively rooting for this movie to bomb. There are maybe a few who are mostly indifferent about it, but I’m sure most people here really hope that this is gonna be good AND a success! Remember, this websight is more or less the headquarter of the DISNEY’S LONE RANGER fanclub and we all love movies that are too ambitious (or old fashioned) for the box office!

    We are just not very optimistic about what the majority of the movie goers cares about these days.

  15. I know – I was just passing on something I read the other day. It DOES feel like there’s a general lack of enthusiasm for this film. Hard to put the finger on it. GHOST IN THE SHELL-levels of shoulder-shrugging among general audiences? I don’t know. I can even relate somewhat. I’ve read a few of the original comics and those trailers do very little for me – the film looks like a more evolved version of Lucas’ prequels. I’ll go see it, but I’m sceptical.
    (Would have preferred a Hugh Jackman/Jessica Chastain combo for the leads.)

  16. I was actually replying to Jake. Your comment wasn’t there when I wrote mine.

  17. Even Emma Stone and Baby Driver would’ve been better than these 2. Seemingly at least. Who knows Dane DeLackofCharisma and Eyebrow Girl might shock us all and make us fall in love with the characters for all we know but man are they the sore thumb that sticks out on an otherwise gorgeous looking hand right now. It looks amazing otherwise though. That trailer I saw in front of the new Spider-Man with the Gangsta’s Paradise cover was pretty breathtaking on the big screen. Also passionately ambitious Luc Besson is one of the best Luc Bessons and this is the shit he got into filmmaking for in the first place. I agree with CJ I don’t think anybody in this here community wants to see this fall on it’s face. We hope for the best especially from someone who gave us 2 back to back stone cold action classics (NIKITA, LEON) and a great Bruce romp. We all love Bruce. However we’re also realists and things are not looking good for this one in terms of it grabbing the attention of the common Joe but Jake’s right though as long as it actually delivers in the end will it really matter?

  18. Jake, we are adults discussing the oft discussed discussion of movies like this failing to find an audience in America. No need to sarcasm.

  19. Thing is this is a very strange and front-loaded summer. So unless DUNKIRK turns out to be this generation’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, THE EMOJI MOVIE turns out to actually be THE LEGO MOVIE surrogate they were desperately hoping it to be, or THE DARK TOWER manages to break out of its inbuilt audience, VALERIAN stands a chance of at least outperforming our modest expectations.

  20. Worst comes to worst China saves it.

    I think DUNKIRK will do very well. People love the hell out of Christopher Nolan’s movies. I really don’t but most do and he’s pretty much bulletproof.

  21. But is he really a name in and of himself? Maybe. And are people, to Blockbuster dimensions, really going to want to see a WWII drama which apparently prioritises verisimilitude above relatable characterisation and tension? Again, I’m not ruling it out. But I also wouldn’t rule out a fair number of people opting for a $200million space opera instead, even if it’s based on a French comic book they’ve never heard of starring actors whose names they can’t pronounce. It’ll be an interesting moment. Between this and surprise flops like THE LAST KNIGHT people’s viewing habits and choices are getting interesting again.

  22. When was the last war movie that was a big box office hit?

  23. Pacman he has the same goodwill with general audiences that The Beard had going into SAVING PRIVATE RYAN at this point in his career. That as you recall was a huge summer hit. I do think people will care about THIS WWII movie only because it is from Nolan. Even his astronaut daddy issues joint which looked full of itself that I thought it would flop did very well in the end. I love Luc but he doesn’t have the same name prestige with that crowd and they’re also kinda tired of so many spacey pictures.

    As you said though things have been rather interesting with the first TRANSFORMERS that thanks to the will of Crom is STILL sitting at less than half a million in weeks of release. So who knows which way the pendulum will really swing?

  24. CJ – Yeah, I figured that out a few seconds AFTER I posted my reply – didn’t look at the time-stamp of your post. It happens.

  25. I’m thrilled that DeHaan got this role and WELLNESS though, kid has great screen presence in my opinion.

  26. I’m pleased as punch that Besson is doing his own thing, but the movie looks painfully generic in the year of our lord 2017 and the stars are almost comically offputting. It’s more than that that old “The American people are idiots” chestnut that’s gonna make it flop.

  27. And I say this as someone who’s probably going to see it opening weekend.

  28. I’m super excited and hopeful for VALERIAN. I guess it’s obvious to everyone else but now that you mention it, yeah Luc Besson is no longer looked at as an art house darling with mainstream appeal. Whenever anyone says his name I immediately think of his 80s-90s where that man seemed incapable of not making a great fucking movie. Then he did THE MESSENGER which I hated for years, I was super excited for it and was less than pleased with the final movie. I recently re-watched it and no longer hold the grudge towards but I still rank it as only okay and a wasted opportunity that could have been great. Post-MESSENGER his directed movies are really spotty and seems to be more known as a producer of trashy B-movies now than the ground-breaking visionary he was considered in the 80’s and 90s’. Outside of him being inspired by James Cameron and saying he’s only going to direct ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES movies from now, I’m still a fan life for life because his initial run was so strong though and other than the aforementioned ARTHUR movies and ANGEL-A I’ve still enjoyed all his (directed) movies. This is a long-winded way of saying the trailer and posters boasting it’s a new Besson film is still a huge selling point to me even if it’s not for others.

    That does bring up a point with how far we’ve come since the original FIFTH ELEMENT (and PHANTOM MENACE) that he can go and make this big expensive sprawling sci-fi epic and the majority of us (not just the norms) can look at it and shrug.
    —-
    I’m also super-interested in why this LAST KNIGHT is the TRANSFORMERS movie where the populous is finally on the ‘we’ve had
    enough of this’ train (it’s even under-performing in China). I heard some from the few who have seen it saying this is the worst of the lot and I ask, sincerely with no snark or ass-holiness, how can you tell? It is of the same exact quality of the other three sequels? I guess the honeymoon/happy marriage phase is over. Pity as I started looking forward to the things to see how much weirder and crazy they could get. I mean yeah it’d better if they were legit good.. maybe…

    So yeah I agree with CJ and Broddie: the audience is becoming a bit more unpredicatable now with non-Marvel Studio and non-STAR WARS movies. Good. That should (hopefully) keep the money-men on their toes and start taking real chances (it wont happen).

  29. On topic post: Saw FIFTH ELEMENT in theaters two months ago for the anniversary/shill for VALERINE screening and can attest that Vern and Mr. S are wrong as it is still 100% awesome but I already knew that because FIFTH ELEMENT is one of those once or more a year movies for me.

  30. No offense intended, Sternshein. I just found it funny that you and Griff (and some other comments elsewhere on the site) were bemoaning the poor performance of the non-existent box office for a movie that hasn’t been released yet. And seemed to be actively suggesting that they should have sanded off the edges with some more famous stars so it wouldn’t be “TOO crazy” for a mainstream audience. As someone who thinks movies should add as many extra edges as possible (I still think they should have cast U2’s guitarist instead of Alec Baldwin in that Anthony Hopkins wilderness movie), this struck me as a strange complaint.

    Also, I don’t get the DeHaan dismissal. He’s a very good actor. He can convincingly play a douchebag who you grow to hate over the course of a movie (CHRONICLE) while also being able to convincingly play a douchebag you grow to root for over the course of a movie (A CURE FOR WELLNESS). Say what you will about him, the man’s got range. (I actually do think he has range. He was solid as non-douchebag James Dean in LIFE, though I don’t recall the movie being super great.) And A CURE FOR WELLNESS is still my favorite movie of the year so far. I like that he picked a weirdo, uncommercial movie like that to do. Bodes well for his choice of VALERIAN. If it approaches WELLNESS levels of weirdness (it won’t) I will be very pleased.

    I don’t get the Cara Delevingne casting complaints here either. On another site I could maybe understand that. But I’m assuming people here are familiar with Besson’s 30+ year history of always casting awesome leading ladies in every single movie in which he has a lead actress to cast. Did he issue some DOGME 17 manifesto since making LUCY that all movies must be shot in available light with whatever crappy actors you can pull off the street or something?

  31. geoffreyjar- I think in a world where audiences know they’re going to get a Marvel movie (or Marvel-chasing movie like WONDER WOMAN) in a fortnight or so that’s going to have a better story, acting and characterisation, and a similar (if slightly more anonymous) level of spectacle with more coherent action, the TRANSFORMER films serve little purpose outside of hardcore auteurists like us. I guess audiences are just that much more in that mindset in the three years since AGE OF EXTINCTION, plus that one did seem to be quite unpopular with the general public in a way that even REVENGE OF THE FALLEN wasn’t.

  32. geoffreyjar – Yeah, it’s weird to me that THE Luc Besson has made a new scifi epic with the awesomely evocative title of VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS and it seems to be greeted even here with only slightly more excitement than a new Brett Ratner flick. My finger is definitely nowhere close to the pulse of society.

    As for THE LAST KNIGHT, for me the reason it’s less good than the others is that it spends a lot more time on boring exposition. One thing I like about the other ones is that Bay blows through the exposition as fast as he can so I’m only bored by the mythology I don’t care about for around 10-20 minutes. In this one it felt more like 45 minutes. Spending 15 minutes talking about actual real life historical figures like Stephen Hawking, Harriet Tubman and Merlin the Magician protecting Transformers and 0 minutes showing Harriet Tubman leading Transformers to safety in the North is not a good ratio of boring to ridiculous, in my opinion. The others had that ratio dialed in better, though I think they all had some room for improvement.

  33. Jake I think it’s safe to say we’ll all be there in some way. Like I decided to watch it in theaters after all. If it was shot with native IMAX then preferably in that format.

  34. Jake – I made my dismal of DeHaan in another thread talking about VALERIAN before I saw A CURE FOR WELLNESS. I have seen it now so I’m on board with him (meant to make a post in the Halloween thread or LONE RANGER thread about WELLNESS but didn’t but I really loved it and am kicking myself now for listening to everyone saying it was a boring slog and skipping it in theaters (this after I was looking forward to it btw). I also dismissed Delevingne and you’re right, if there’s one aspect I should have faith in Besson (maybe besides cinematography) is his eye for casting his female leads.

    As for LAST KNIGHT, I’ll buy your complaint. When they went to Britain the movie screeched to a halt. I had an extra big problem with it because for the first time in the series history: for the first hour I was legitimately liking it! It felt like real sci-fi making a commentary on the migrant crisis (accidental perhaps?) and also a series first, a human character I didn’t hate. So of coarse they completely ditch/ignore before the movie’s halfway point and replace her with a love interest for Marky Mark. Movie didn’t get me back till they entered the underwater temple (they also lose points for the sub never turning into a robot and fighting the grave guardian guy).

    Pacman: Yeah that’s what I was leaning towards as well. The summer season is way more jam packed, the Marvel Studio movies are usually legit quality and the TFs are all samey. Though along with lacking the crazy the Marvels and their ilk also lack the sheer spectacle Bay delivered with these 3D cameras (you mention a variation of this). KNIGHT is the only 3D movie this summer actually filmed in 3D (with IMAX 3D cameras no less) and dear god does this movie show off the difference of movie post-converted and what happens when you hire a non-work-for-hire director like Bay. Like all the sequels there are some legit jaw-dropping sights to behold that we actually get to see since he can’t whip the 3D cameras around. Shame the 3D cameras can’t also focus his story-telling.

  35. That CURE FOR WELLNESS did seem kinda interesting but it came and went with so little fanfare I kinda just forgot all about it.

  36. geoffreyjar – Yeah, I definitely think A CURE FOR WELLNESS has a strong potential for a cult following. And I suspect a lot of people will join you in wishing they had seen it on the big screen. That movie is absolutely gorgeous! The only other film that comes close to that level of cinematography for me this year so far is THE BEGUILED. (Which reminds me, that’s probably another reason I didn’t enjoy THE LAST KNIGHT as much. I saw it the same day as I saw THE BEGUILED which didn’t do it any favors. Arthouse/blockbuster double features aren’t necessarily good movie watching strategy. I should have remembered the A SCANNER DARKLY/PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 double feature I did years ago that completely killed any interest I had in the PIRATES series.)

    Broddie – WELLNESS felt to me like CRIMSON PEAK with a bit of EYES WIDE SHUT and a liberal helping of South Korean craziness and tonal shifts. If you like those it’s probably worth checking out.

  37. Jake I wasn’t too big on CRIMSON PEAK but Verbinski by way of heavy Kubrick influences got my attention. Sounds like my type of jam.

  38. Jake: One year for my birthday at our local 100+ year old single screen theater I foolishly watched Hitchcock’s REBECCA (their classic option of the weekend) and immediately stayed and watched the brand new that weekend IRON MAN 2 afterwards. IRON MAN 2 was not able to hold a candle.

    Broddie: WELLNESS is MUCH better than CRIMSON PEAK.

  39. Yeah, there should be a movie sommelier at theaters to let people know what movies pair well.

  40. From the moment I heard that Luc Besson was making another space opera I have been drooling in anticipation. The people expecting/rooting for it to fail are not me.

  41. Okay saw VALERIAN last night (in 2D because it was not filmed in 3D though it’s obvious Besson had 3D in mind while blocking and editing it). I enjoyed it, I can see some really loving it though I never made it that far (was hoping to love it). First up, this is a VERY nerdy movie. So if that’s a turn off then stay far the fuck away. The movie is very much Besson saw AVATAR and the STAR WARS prequels and decided to make his take on that mode.

    My favorite part(s) where the very beginning with the Space Oddity opening credits showing the history of human space living and then the alien planet. Felt really new and adventurous but after that it becomes a more reunite space adventure movie. Though no other space adventure movie has a crazy-fun running around a market place in an alternative dimension while the heroes are in the prime dimension running away from and fighting space-gangsters.

    Mr. M: Not sure you’ll dig it. Hands down the biggest weak link of the movie is the leads. I was hoping to be proved wrong from the trailers but alas the leads share no chemistry and thus all their meet-cute ‘witty’ dialogue comes across as some Anakin/Padme-in-Episode II & III-level bullshit. Whether he knew it or not, Besson makes the wise decision to keep splitting them up through-out the movie.

    So yeah this is going to be a love it or hate it. I really do not see any in-between opinions on this one. I predict at year’s end it may end up on just as many best-of-the-year lists as worst-of-the-year lists.

  42. Just saw Valerian and what the fuck, how about I just repost my entire review?

    I wouldn’t call myself a big fan of Luc Besson, but he’s directed a few movies I really like (Leon: The Professional, Lucy) a few that I think are just okay (The Messenger, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita) and then a whole bunch of stuff I haven’t seen. As a writer and producer he’s also given us the Taken series, the Transporter series, the Taxi series (big hit in Europe) as well as District B13 (the movie with all the parkour) and Lockout (basically Escape From New York set on a space prison; fun stuff). So he’s had an interesting career. And I guess he’s always had a bug up his butt to adapt a series of films from a French comic series he grew up reading called Valerian and Laureline. Apparently when he saw Avatar, he realized that the technology was finally at the point where he felt he could do justice to the source material.

    So how did he do? On a technical level this movie is an absolute marvel of modern digital effects, not in the sense that the alien creatures all look photorealistic (because photorealism wouldn’t work for this movie) but rather in the sense that they built this beautiful, living, breathing world full of adventure that you want to go visit. In that way it’s similar to Star Wars or Avatar, although the aesthetic is much more colorful and cartoonish like Guardians of the Galaxy or Besson’s own Fifth Element. From the creatures to the sets to the costumes, the design of everything is top notch.

    So how’s the story? It’s a pretty standard action adventure plot. There’s a McGuffin that everyone wants, there’s bad guys who may not be so bad, there’s good guys who are probably hiding some dark secret, there are fast-paced chase scenes and lots of fighting and shooting and swinging from things, there are tons of colorful side characters who add some funny moments, and in the end love conquers all. This movie has all of the right ingredients and it mostly comes together to form a big, fun, blockbuster adventure.

    Unfortunately there are some pretty big issues holding the film back from greatness, and their names are Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne. I actually think DeHaan can deliver a great performance when he’s matched with the right material, like in Chronicle where he plays a troubled, abused teen who is suddenly given super-human powers. He’s perfect for playing scrawny weirdos that you feel the need to keep an eye on. But his character Valerian is supposed to be a square-jawed, cocky, Han Solo type. He’s totally wrong for the part, but he gives it 110% god bless him and he almost pulls it off. If they had paired him up with a good actress he had chemistry with, they could have made it work. But Delevingne is just not a very talented actor, and she is never convincing as a badass special agent. The two actors have little to no chemistry, and unfortunately their budding romantic relationship is supposed to be the heart of the movie. It should be enough to ruin the movie (I think it will be more than enough for most people) but I think the fun adventure aspects make up for it enough that the film is still worth seeing.

    Another big problem I should mention is the 25 minute diversion in the middle of the film where Laureline is captured by some random aliens and Valerian has to go rescue her. He ends up getting help in the brothel district of Alpha (the titular city of a thousand planets) when he randomly meets Ethan Hawke playing some sort of cowboy space pimp who invites him to a private burlesque show where he plays a space piano while Rihanna dances on a pole and shape-shifts into different fetish costumes. This is when I nearly fell in love with the movie. Rihanna uses her shapeshifting powers to help Valerian rescue Laureline but in the escape she (apparently) gets injured and then immediately dies from those injuries in the most melodramatic scene in the movie. The emotions are completely unearned since these characters have been friends for literally 10 minutes. It doesn’t help that Rihanna’s acting is very stiff. The worst part is that this entire subplot could be lifted entirely out of the movie and it wouldn’t affect anything else. If anything it would improve the film’s pace, as it starts dragging during the 2 hour 15 minute runtime.

    So……. would I recommend seeing it? Maybe. See it if you’re really into Luc Besson’s movies, especially The Fifth Element. It has a similar sense of fun and adventure, it’s just lacking a bit in compelling characters. Personally, I would love to revisit this universe with a different cast some day. But that is a long time off because this movie will probably bomb because it cost 800 billion dollars to make and nobody is familiar with French comic books aside from the French. Oh well.

    I give Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets three out of five magic poop monsters.

  43. Agreed. I like the film but the leads are seriously miscast.

    One nice callback to THE FIFTH ELEMENT. One of the Alien species is the opening 5 mins should look familiar to fans.

  44. Yeah that’s pretty much what I posted in this thread yesterday but written. I didn’t mention it but there are quite a few bits in the movie that could be taken out and the movie wouldn’t lose anything but it’s in there because Besson wanted to show you more cool shit so I can semi-approve.

    Everyone is making fun of Rihanna in this thing, or feeling sorry for her that she agreed to be in it, and I think that’s a bit overly mean, especially when our leads are so horribly miscast (which is particularly odd because usually Besson is 100% on casting and working with actors).

  45. I suspect future audiences will look more kindly on this film. Perhaps even a Cult Following?

    It’s a flawed film but i appreciate Besson’s passion here. There’s a lot to like.

  46. The prior post was supposed to say/infer that RJ wrote a much better written version of what I was trying to say in my post from yesterday fyi!

    Felix: Of this one definitely has cult classic written all over it. I doubt this one does too good but I suspect it will have good legs on home video/VOD/midnight screenings. My brother and I were bouncing off the walls for this thing and we left pleased but not in love. There was this one guy at our screening who FUCKING LOVED this thing. He was from the prior showing and decided to stay for the showing we went to. He greeted everyone coming in proclaiming how excellent it was. I was hoping to feel that way but I’ll take entertained.

  47. *Oh instead of Of, shit I can’t type this morning.

  48. Are some of you were giving me shit for worrying about the leads. Fucking told you lol

  49. Holy shit guys, JUPITER ASCENDING 2: VALERIAN is the lost fourth Prequel I never dared hope for.

  50. And of course it’s not doing too hot at the box office, because you know how audiences are.

  51. Stern: I believe I agreed with you, Mr. M, and Broddie that the leads look like a problem from the trailer.

    Mr. S: You got a JUPITER ASCENDING vide too didn’t you? I think I even said this movie was what the Wachowski’s were going for in JUPITER but took out of my comment. I already mentioned that I think this one is going to get compared to the prequels, a lot (not favorably). Their lost. I had a lot of fun with it regardless of issues.

  52. Hope Vern reviews this.

  53. Mastor Troy - Google+

    Mastor Troy - Google+

    Haven’t seen VALERIAN yet (starts over here in a few weeks) but I thought I’d say that while I love and respect you all for your opinion on DeHaan’s acting ability, YOU ARE ALL SO VERY VERY WRONG!(In my humble opinion). You obviously have not seen A CURE FOR WELLNESS which you should remedy ASAFP(as soon as fucking possible), then you will know what I am on about.

    I predict he will be one of our future great character actors. He’s got that unusual handsomeness thing, albeit still boyish which he may not grow out of but will be of great benefit to future roles that require weird sick-eyed villains, like Willem Dafoe or Benicio Del Toro or Kevin Bacon are so memorable at playing.

    His Harry Osborne also shits all over Franco’s.

  54. Thanks, you reminded me how stupid he looks in Spiderman.

  55. As mentioned elsewhere, I loved him in A CURE FOR WELLNESS (forgot he was in Amazing Spidey 2*). Unfortunately he was miscast in VALERIAN. I’ve learned to adopt the adage that if you don’t like a performance, you blame the director and not the actor. Therefore I place all the blame on Besson who is usually great at casting and directing actors. Valerian was the primary inspiration for the Han Solo character and called for a performance and presence and equal to a Harrison Ford back when he maybe kinda cared about acting. So no I don’t blame DeHaan, just unfortunate because a movie such as this hinges ALOT on the chemistry between it’s leads.

    *I skipped AMAZING SPIDEY 2 in theaters, which would have been blasphemy to young Spidey-fan me, but caught it on home video. I didn’t think it was necessarily the bug-fuck disaster it was labeled as. I remember thinking it was ‘okay’ but I’d still take any of the Raimi ones over it. I think I liked it more than the Nicholas Hammond ones though.

  56. I never doubted DeHaan’s acting abilities. I just don’t know if “leading man” is really in the cards for him. He’s very effective as smug, hateful weasels you can’t wait to see get their comeuppance but kind of see where they’re coming from anyway. He’s got a great future playing “the hothead armed robber who blows the job” and “mob boss’ fuckup junkie son” and “green lieutenant whose lack of experience is going to get the squad killed” and maybe even “mean rich guy the female lead almost marries ” when he gets a little older. Actual heroic protagonists with whom you enjoy spending time? I don’t know about that. He’s just naturally hateable. Movies need that type, too, though. There’s no shame in it.

  57. DeHaan was born too late. He has a 90s independent movie face and could’ve made a career out of appearing in low budget Tarantino rip-offs or black & white dramedies, made by first-and-only-time directors. Today he is probably best suited as supporting actor/recurring guest star in a smug and unfunny premium cable comedy series.

  58. I love Dane DeHaan, think he’s a terrific actor, but both leads here are so comically, outrageously, magnificently miscast that it actually contributes to the overall greatness of the movie. Without the two leads being unbelievably, egregiously hateable, it would just be a ridiculous over-the-top movie. WITH the two leads being the exact opposite of everything the movie tells you they are, it crosses into a sublime disaster, which really has no parallel other than the Prequels.

    I highly, highly recommend each and every one of you watch VALERIAN just as soon as you are humanly able. It’s a disaster, but my god, is it an amazing disaster. I haven’t been able to stop describing it to people all day.

    Just so there’s no doubt, I’ll say it here: I fucking love VALERIAN and I expect to see it at least a dozen more times. It has cult classic written all over it.

    geoffreyjar — the JUPITER ASCENDING parallels are unmistakeable, with the minor exception that JA is ponderous and dull as dishwater while VALERIAN is consistently amazing and delightful and whimsical and insane, if you can get on board with the fact that it’s literally a 1950s French comic book brought to hilariously expensive life and cast with the two most howling wrong actors conceivable for the material.

  59. Do you think Besson knows they’re so hateable and cast them specifically for that effect? Or does he spend so much time hanging out with fashion models and people who look like fashion models that he thinks these are the kind of salt-of-the-earth folk that the audience can really relate to?

  60. Ooh, “louche intergalactic royalty in a huge JUPITER ASCENDING/JOHN CARTER-style space fantasy flop” is another one DeHaan would be good at.

  61. I’ve mentioned “mean rich stepbrother in a CRUEL INTENTIONS movie” elsewhere but I think it’s still the most accurate.

  62. Mr M — there’s no evidence whatsoever in the movie that Besson understands how inherently villainous and hateable both his leads are. The script seems to accept at face value the comic’s convention of the hero as a brash, cocky asshole who is so handsome and charming that you can’t help but love him anyway. DeHaan, bless him, really gives it his best shot, but the idea of him as a cocky heartthrob is just so demented it makes the movie borderline surreal. Delevigne, meanwhile, delivers every line with a pronounced sense of irritated suspicion that someone is playing a cruel joke on her, which means she may be the only person in the cast to understand what is being done to them.

    Well, and Ethan Hawke. His brief cameo as Ted Nugent’s vague fantasy of a cowboy circus ringmaster pimp is pretty great. You can practically hear him telling Besson “That was a good take, but I think I can go bigger, if you give me one more shot!”

  63. Delevigne is at least pretty hot though.

  64. Hawke always gives full value. For a guy who got famous embodying the slacker ethos, he sure does work his balls off up there are on that screen.

  65. This reminds me I really really want a movie with Ethan Hawke and Stephen Dorf as brothers trying to one up each other when they bring the crazy. With Nicolas Cage as their uncle who grew up as a friend to them since they were all pretty close in age.

  66. I hope that when I try to catch it in 3D in a couple of weeks that it’s still playing on a 3D screen. I’ve only seen like 2 movies at the flicks in 3D since AVATAR and that includes AVATAR itself. However something tells me VALERIAN will be well worth it in that format. That one and next month’s T2 re-release.

  67. Brodie — I saw it in 3D and was thoroughly pleased I did so. It’s not essential, though, because there’s so much visually going on anyway that I think you’ll probably reach audio-visual saturation well before they start throwing 3D shit at you. But it’s also very much a kitchen-sink movie, so I recommend going overboard for it. And –I seldom say this, but it’s unavoidable in this case– if you can manage to get ridiculously high beforehand, that would also help a lot and would be a very good idea. Also: Ticket sold for your Hawke/Dorf/Cage mega-acting tournament.

  68. I was gonna say that we need some mega-actresses in there, but I had trouble thinking of many, which I think is proof that there’s a shortage of good parts out there for women. Guys get to work up a portfolio of scenery-eating weirdoes but women are stuck “grounding” the movie.

    What actresses are reliably mega? Melissa Leo? Jessica Lange? It seems like there’s more opportunities for mega once an actress enters her BABY JANE stage, but they make the younger ones color between the lines. I guess there’s always Tilda Swinton. I think Elizabeth Banks could let it rip if they gave her a chance, and you know Charlize Theron is just looking for an excuse to get nuts.

    I want to live in a world where a woman is just as likely to eat a live cockroach on camera as a man.

  69. Where would FRIDAY THE 13TH be if Betsy Palmer wasn’t allowed to go full-on mega?

    I think Uma Thurman has it in her. She got to go mega in BATMAN & ROBIN I guess some could say.

  70. I was never a Nicole Kidman fan until I saw her Mega potential boil up in THE PAPERBOY. She needs to make less Oscar bait and do more jail bait roles (can I say that without getting arrested?). She’s in her super hot MILF stage right now and it should not be wasted.

    And upon a recent re-watch of TO DIE FOR, I concluded that her performance is unquestionably the single greatest piece of acting of the 20th century.

    Mastor Troy - Google+

    Mastor Troy - Google+

  71. I told you Valerian was going to bomb.

  72. Those who saw Valerian in 3D, did you notice ghosting (double image even with glasses) especially in the space scenes? It was really bad in multiple LA screenings.

  73. Parker Posey and Juliette Lewis can both bring some excellent mega-acting. Amanda Plummer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Laura Dern and Isabella Rossellini can get pretty out there. Cate Blanchett can too, but she only unleashes it rarely. Bijou Phillips always impressed me with how unhinged she could get. I wish she was in more movies. Brittany Murphy was another favorite of mine because of her off the wall performances. I miss her. She had potential for some great mega-acting in her future. And then there’s probably the most mega-actress I can think of: Bai Ling. I would love to see her and Cage star in something together.

  74. Fred, I haven’t seen the movie yet (but will in theatres, I’m sure of it) but I did see tweets from multiple film critics about how there were whole unfinished FX shots, with editorial info and everything, in the review screenings. Seems like they were under the gun right up until the end on that one.

  75. Loved it. Maybe not as batsh*t crazy as FIFTH ELEMENT, but much more visually bonkers thanks to modern CGI. Well worth my time.

    The hero’s douchiness and the heroine’s deadpan glowering never struck me as mistakes. For me they further added to the surrealism.

    Rihanna’s performance is not good. But like 1980s-era Schwarzenegger it gave her a certain naive charm.

    People who go to a crazy French space opera wanting to “identify with the characters” don’t deserve movies. Stay home and watch Everybody Loves Raymond reruns. Now excuse me while I kiss the sky (i. e. go see the movie again).

  76. I told you Valerian was going to bomb.

    Dear Everyone That Have Been Saying ‘Valerian is going to bomb’ Since February or Whenever the First Trailer Was Released,

    It bombed. You were right. Now go get your fucking prize, pat yourself on the back, and generally bask in whatever perceived reward you feel you have coming to you.

    You are special.

    Love,
    jojo

  77. JTS, it screened about a month early and fx were finished. It’s just 3D was bad. I confirmed with colleagues who saw it weeks later it hadn’t been fixed. Happens to the best of me I guess. Even Hugo had a little ghosting, but Valerian was egregious. Plus, were I given the choice I’d prefer 2D anyway.

  78. Fred, I saw it in Real-D and did notice ghosting but only for a few seconds on shots of the satellite in space at the beginning. Was it the 3D with the battery powered glasses you have to return at the end? I’ve noticed more ghosting with that system than with the disposable glasses. I’ve always assumed it was an equipment error.

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