Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Rutger Hauer, Kris Wu, John Goodman
One slow day in 1967 a Frenchman decided to create a comic series, Valérian and Laureline, and since that day the story has grown with over four decades of adventures. Now, thanks to sci-fi auteur Luc Besson, the characters have been brought to the big screen in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
At times, it feels forty years long.
In the 28th Century, after the International Space Station became too dangerous to remain in its current state, it was relocated to deep space where it was renamed Alpha. In time, a thousand planets joined with Alpha, creating a planetary city brimming with species and knowledge from across the galaxy. Anything and everything you could imagine could be found somewhere in the space-travelling metropolis.
Elsewhere, on the utopian planet of Mül, the apocalypse has come. The glistening beach planet is known for harvesting high-energy pearls and replicating them via small animals known as Converters - and all that is about to be blown to pieces. A few survivors managed to take shelter in an old ship, however, the planet’s princess Lihö (Sahsa Luss) is caught in the destruction and as she dies, transfers her soul across the galaxy and into the conscience of Major Valerian (DeHaan). Along with his feisty partner, Laureline (Delevingne), Valerian is tasked by Commander Arün Filitt (Owen) with retrieving the last surviving Converter whilst also saving Alpha from an unknown threat lurking in the planet’s core – before it’s too late.
There’s no better way to start then to say that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a big movie. In terms of runtime, scope, source material and VFX, everything is on the large end of the scale. DoP Thierry Arbogast, along with Besson, let their imaginations go wild with the creation of the planetary visuals and the species that inhabit them. The opening sequence does seem like a conveyor belt of rejected Lucasfilm creations, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting – the Make Up department deserve a mention for their stellar work. There’s a clear Star Wars prequels vibe in terms of the city visuals, it’s inescapable (and that’s not where the comparisons end), as well as nods to Besson’s own The Fifth Element as well as sci-fi staples such as The Matrix littered throughout. Glittering visuals don’t always make for a nice visual, however. At times, in the attempt to go ‘big’, the on-screen action/visuals becomes frenetic and a blur – literally, there’s too much to handle and the final effect looks plastic. CGI is everywhere, which is also unavoidable, at when it works, it looks astounding however at times it just looks cartoony (the inhabitants of Mül, for example). Overall, though, the majority of the movie is a feast for the eyes.
The movie suffers badly from terrible dialogue. Whether the translation was iffy or the source dialogue is just utterly crap, what the actors are given is just awful. The audience intelligence is questioned regularly as the most obvious of things are highlighted and explained – usually by hugely stereotypical characters (Hi, Clive Owen!) and the romantic/sleazy interludes are just plain cringe. Whereas the visuals will delight your eyes, the dialogue will poison your ears. It meanders at an inconsistent pace and the story that is followed isn’t all that interesting considering there were so many choices to lift from the source material.
The performances also don’t help. As the lead, Dane DeHaan picks up where Hayden Christensen left off in the Star Wars prequels, only with less charisma. It’s incomprehensible to believe his character is a combat-worn arse kicker and his lack of personality rivals Keanu Reeves. He is clearly a good actor (see: The Place Beyond the Pines and A Cure for Wellness) but there is nothing here that will enhance his career. Delevingne outperforms him throughout the movie and is surprisingly decent for the most part. The chemistry between them flits between non-existent and ‘OK’. Rihanna shows up for a short cameo and it’s...bad – nothing else to add. Ethan Hawke, however, also has a short cameo and provides some campy fun as Jolly the Pimp, hamming up his scenes and appearing to be the only cast member that is enjoying themselves.
One positive was the use of Space Oddity by David Bowie, what a great song.
Also, the character of Da sounds like my young daughter, which instantly makes that creature cool.
There are lots of decent ideas and concepts in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, but they are just let down by the writing and acting. The VFX clearly took precedence over a strong narrative which is a shame as there is a HELL OF A LOT that could be done with this series and characters. As the most expensive independent movie ever made, whether or not the budgetary extravagances would merit/allow a sequel is almost rendered pointless as this movie just isn’t great. With a sharper script and more focused performances, the potential of this movie was limitless, unfortunately, it potential that was a long way from being realised.
A fine-looking mess.
November 15th 2017