I suppose we’re beginning to take for granted that pretty much anything is possible in the world of visual effects, only limited to a director or screenwriter’s imagination, and seeing such incredible worlds displayed on the biggest screens we can find, is becoming the norm. So that is perhaps one reason why this incredible spectacle of boundless imagination and wonder didn’t fair all that well both with critics and the box office. Oh, and the lack of a big name star probably didn’t help.
In the far flung future, two special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) maintain order throughout the galaxy. When the minister of defence (Clive Owen) sends them on a mission to floating, over-crowded metropolis … the discovery of a dark force lurking at the city’s core sets into motion a race against time to solve a mystery.
This is a visually spectacular and stylish experience from beginning to end, part Avatar and part director Luc Besson’s own earlier foray into sci-fi, The Fifth Element. It retains that movies’ bonkers tone that’s decidedly French-European with a little far-east for good measure and well it gives everything a quirky infectiously-entertaining vibe that’s hard to ignore. However it’s also a great deal to hang on the shoulders of two young leads who aren’t exactly Hollywood A-List or all that charismatic despite best intentions and well, a Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence type-combination would have worked wonders. That being said, Besson can certainly direct action, understands his source material (a series of graphic novels) and is clearly having a blast introducing us to a rich, diverse and fascinating world, packed with endless possibilities. The story although engaging fails to deliver on such potential, and like I said performances are serviceable, but as an example of true escapist entertainment … this did it’s job.
Lockhart, a somewhat over-worked executive (Dane DeHaan) is given the task to travel to Switzerland to locate an illusive CEO of the company he works for, which is facing financial problems. However on arrival at a hospital where the wealthy go for ‘the cure’ Lockhart begins to suspect something dark and sinister is afoot.
It’s not hard to gleam Shutter Island vibes from this, what with the lead’s more than passing resemblance to a somewhat younger Leonardo DiCaprio and a setting of a creepy, isolated sanatorium with stories of a violent history. Add to this a lead doctor (Jason Isaacs) who may or may not be up to no good, and I was half expecting Lockhart’s dead wife to turn up. Gore Verbinski however is a good enough director to take such inspiration and lavish it with his own distinct style, albeit with a reliance on animal imagery he used so well in the Ring remake (yup, Deers and Cows are officially symbols of impending doom). Add to this often breath-taking cinematography and this is one eye-catching movie.
When the final twist reveals itself, it’s so blatantly sign-posted that it proves not all that surprising … but paves the way for a decidedly old-school, Hammer-horror inspired climax that works well. However I was left questioning a few things that are not explained.
Dane DeHaan may not be the most interesting leading man but his look and performance suit the eerie, freaky mood. It’s a tad over-long with a first act that drags and some of the more freaky moments confuse (the steam baths scene, the eels). However it nails the setting and has an intriguing mystery, making this still worth your time.
The last movie, rebooting a franchise that had reached a dead-end after the lacklustre Spider-Man 3, was a decent if somewhat uninspiring outing for the web crawler, helped it has to be said by solid casting and some good action. This time around Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is still juggling his on/off relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), trying to hold down a job as a photographer (er, only hinted at) and his responsibilities as a super-hero. However the mystery behind his parent’s disappearance still looms and a new enemy in the shape of an ignored, put-upon scientist (Jamie Foxx) turned electricity consumed super-villain ‘electro’ arrives on the scene.
Plenty going on in this sequel. Again Garfield is good as Parker/Spider-Man although his snively / arrogant double-act grates sometimes. Stone on the other hand is again perfect, even if she doesn’t get much more to do than threaten to run away to England. Sally Field as Aunt May seems to have stepped up her presence however in the absence of Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben, and we also get Harry Osborne (a diverting Dane DeHaan), former best friend turned megalomaniac beneficiary of Oscorp. As always for this kind of thing the sequel seems over-complicated but makes for some great action and superb effects work (apart from some dubious swinging through New York bits that looked better in 2001). Foxx is good as Electro even if his character is quite the cliché, but overall there was a somewhat childish tone with too many moments of poking fun at our hero (the fireman’s helmet bit?).
It’s hard not to wish this had turned out differently … towards the end it really hit it’s stride, offering up some surprises as well as the (albeit predictable) character-ark of Harry Osborne. Yet this was still good entertainment, despite suffering from the usual sequel / trilogy trappings. Roll on The Amazing Spider-Man 3 then.