Every blockbuster season, it seems that there are films destined to be flops. Nowadays, we don’t do flops like we used to. We’ve become used to mostly disappointing yet forgettable popcorn fare. But now and then, we are blessed with the glory of an almighty flop for the ages, with hundreds of millions of dollars lost amidst a sea of misguided genius and auteurism run rampant. We got it with Jupiter Ascending, a film so gloriously bonkers in its execution that it almost made Eddie Redmayne likable. Now, it feels as though the stars have aligned and we may get it with the return of Luc Besson, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Okay, it does feel somewhat unfair to write this film off as a flop before it’s even hit theatres, but it’s hard to ignore the warning signs. While the Valérian and Laureline comics are a major deal in Besson’s native France (yes I see what you did there in dropping the female lead’s name from the film title), but you’d struggle to find that kind of name recognition in the wider international market. There’s also the neon space elephant in the room of the film’s budget: €197 million, making it by far the most expensive French film ever (for comparison, the previous holder of that record, Asterix at the Olympic Games, had a budget of €78 million). When a King Arthur film looks set to lose about $150m, how does that bode well for a blockbuster with a title most English language speakers haven’t heard of?
The film itself actually seems tailor-made to brighten up a drab Summer season in Hollywood, where 9-budget expanded universe epics have gotten darker and “edgier” to pander to tedious notions of adult entertainment. We could use a giddily vibrant space opera with a rich colour palate, an array of gorgeous CGI creatures, space and time travelling special agents in the 28th century, Rihanna as a shape-shifting club singer, and Ethan Hawke playing a character called “Jolly the Pimp”.
I’m genuinely excited to see Besson, who is an underrated master of making earnest and exciting sci-fi adventure fare — from The Fifth Element to Lucy to one of my favourites, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, which is essentially Victorian lady Indiana Jones but with mummies and dinosaurs. Don’t we deserve fun?