Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Rutger Hauer
Written by: Luc Besson, (based on the comic book series “Valerian and Laureline” ) Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres
Running Time: 132 mins
Release date: 2nd August 2017
Luc Besson is a director who doesn’t like to hold back. Take The Fifth Element, his sci-fi adventure from 1997. Everything is thrown at the screen, including the most annoying performance ever from Chris Tucker. Yet visually, it’s unforgettable. Now, 20 years later, with an enormous budget and an effects department that have all the up-to-date bells and whistles of modern cinema, Besson’s latest, a personal passion project, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, doesn’t just throw everything it has onto the screen. It borrows left-vers from other films and throws those as well. What we get a visually stunning sci-fi adventure which is completely incoherent and with two leads who really shouldn’t have been anywhere near this.
Valerian and Laureline are two intergalactic secret agents who have been given a mission to retrieve a creature that can recreate anything it eats. This mission has been assigned by the commanding officer of a giant space station called Alpha, which has a forbidden zone in its heart which may or may not be dangerous. The creature has something to do with this area but Valerian and Laureline need to find out.
I have to be honest, doing the synopsis for this mess was tricky as the story really is, in Besson’s eyes, not that important. To him, it’s the visuals and the pacing. This is an assault on the senses. Wondrous worlds are everywhere. From the planet of Mur that is destroyed at the beginning of the film, with its lush blue skies and gorgeous sea, to the complex world of Alpha and its many inhabitants, Besson hasn’t just sketched them out, he has painted them in glorious colour and detail. It is amazing.
Yet at the same time, this assault to the eyes is exactly that. Sometimes objects are thrown at you from every corner that you feel like your brain is being battered. It becomes almost unwatchable, particularly a scene where Valerian is chasing a ship that has a kidnapped commander on board and he has to crash his way through the many parts of Alpha. Some moments work well. A market that comes from various virtual reality realms is both brilliantly choreographed and incredibly fun but this is one moment in a film that runs at almost 2 and a quarter hours and it is just too much to take.
It doesn’t help that Besson has worried more about the overall look of the film and forgot about characters and script. We know very little about Valerian and Laureline, which doesn’t seem to matter much, so we don’t care about them. The casting doesn’t help either. Dane DeHaan is a fine actor when playing the loner, the outcast, the quirky one. As a screen hero, he fails miserably. He doesn’t look like a hero, doesn’t act like a hero and frankly, he doesn’t seem to show any quality of being a hero. He also lacks any chemistry with his co-star, Cara Delevingne, who may be a great model but is very limited in her acting skills, showing one facial expression with those amazing eyebrows of her, saying I’m tough so don’t mess.
The rest of the cast seem a little wasted. Ethan Hawkes looks like a man told to do your own thing and so, for the brief moments he is on screen, goes all out over-the-top as a pimp. Clive Owen, as the commander, looks like he’s auditioning for panto, while Rihanna gets one of the film’s highlights, a bizarre pole dance routine but is given nothing else to do.
Besson is a good filmmaker when he isn’t in self-indulgent mode. Alas, this is his more self-indulgent film and so if you like your visuals impressive but care little for anything else, this will be the film for you. Otherwise, it’s best to stay away from this incoherent mess that will have you feeling queasy after seeing it. Not as dire as you may think it looks but still not great.