Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) – Film Review
Luc Besson has done some varied films during a career stretching over several decades – witness Subway, The Big Blue, Nikita, The Fifth Element, The Transporter and Taken films, plus more recently Lucy.
Fans of Besson and The Fifth Element (1997) in particular will taken an interest in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Groundbreaking for its time The Fifth Element was one of the biggest films of the 1990s, a colourful, fun, exotic and very Gallic science fiction melange with very entertaining performances by Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovic and Gary Oldman.
What wasn’t commonly known at the time was that Besson, like so many earlier science fiction properties, had been heavily influenced by a series of French sci-fi comic books called Valerian and Laureline.
The Valerian and Laureline comic book series turns 50 years old this year and one of the stories has finally been officially adapted by Besson into the film we see now.
Dane DeHaan (Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) play Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline, both special government agents and a sometime couple in the 29th century.
Clive Owen plays a senior officer in charge of Space Station Alpha – a place where millions of beings from a different planets live together in peace, sharing technology and knowledge – and he’s handed the thankless task of delivering plot exposition explaining that the Alpha station is in danger from an unknown radiation field from a zone within the station.
He’s then promptly kidnapped by a race of aliens thought to be long dead who emerge from the strange radiation flooded area and must be rescued by Valerian and Laureline.
There’s a breathtaking sequence at the start of the film set to David Bowie’s Space Oddity which brilliantly sets up the film with a series of utterly gorgeous CGI scenes during the running time of the song.
It shows simply and effectively how Alpha came about from the year 2020 to the present day setting of the film hundreds of years into the future and light years away from Earth while also offering something of a prelude to the film.
It’s best not to worry too much about plot though as everything is telegraphed, nothing’s too complicated and there’s plenty of Gallic flair knocking about.
Despite looking superb the CGI in places doesn’t seem as fresh as it could have been after decades of effects overkill – some of creatures featured in this film lack the element of surprise and regular film watchers will have seen equivalent effects in other recent films over the years.
It’s also a shame that DeHaan’s portrayal of the titular Valerian falls very flat – for a character who is supposedly a charismatic Han Solo-type who is trying to get Laureline to marry him despite her reservations at him being a bit of a ladies’ man DeHaan looks hopelessly miscast.
DeHaan is getting on for Keanu Reeves levels of wooden and that could be a deal breaker for some people thinking they are in for another spiritual Fifth Element.
Cara Delevingne’s Laureline should have got equal billing
Cara Delevingne, on the other hand, seemed to at least be trying to get into character but the script, while generally original, seemed quite dated in outlook unlike The Fifth Element before it and this is even more obvious in a summer with Wonder Woman in it.
There’s a pile of self indulgent cameos and nods in the film but you’d only have a chance of recognising Ethan Hawke as a sleazy over-the-top pimp character, with Rihanna making a striking appearance as a shapeshifting burlesque stripper.
It’s such a pity that Rihanna’s screen time is so limited, though, as her story looked like it had something to say before Besson’s script moved on to the next set piece while Kris Wu seems to have been included because of Chinese investment in the film.
Despite the running time well in excess of two hours this happens all too often – the plot goes to lengths to show you plenty of original ideas such as a market that exists in a different dimension, a creature that can duplicate things that it eats, a telepathic squid, or a shape changing stripper.
Let’s not forget our all-too-brief looks at the different zones on Alpha where each culture lives only to have our heroes run roughshod – sometimes literally – right through the middle of them like a bull in a china shop.
And it feels as though all those ideas really are being trampled as the film moves towards the end but you might not notice too much if you’ve spent all that time being distracted by DeHaan’s flat delivery of lines.
There’s a decent film in there but I feel it might have had a better chance if Besson had spent more time casting his leads and modernising his script.
Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets (12A; moderate violence, sex references, language; 137 minutes)
Summary: VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS is a sci-fi adventure in which two special agents must investigate the kidnapping of their commander by a race of aliens believed to be extinct.
Rating: ** (A glorious mess but made worse by lacklustre casting)