A Delight to the Senses
Chris Kavan - wrote on 07/22/17
If Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets taught me anything, it is that Luc Besson is not afraid to take chances, and that he continues to be one of the most creative directors today. Billed as the most expensive independent film, and based on a French comic, Valerian follows a pair of intergalactic super agents (titular character Valerian and his female better half Laureline) as they attempt to save Alpha (also known as the City of a Thousand Planets) from a dark force that threatens the millions of species, and all their accumulated knowledge.
I love this opening to this film. Set to the late David Bowie's "Space Oddity" we see humanity go from 1975 to the International Space Station in our near future - as at first representatives from different countries (including India, the Middle East and Africa) come together, shake hands and watch as the station grows. But by 2150, the humans are joined by a series of alien races - and we watch as the station grows exponentially as various races from across the universe join the cause. It's also fun to watch the crew get older with each handshake, and the aliens get more and more... interesting. The ISS eventually becomes Alpha and is sent on a journey through space - continuing to gather more and more aliens as it sets out.
That is easily one of the best opening in a long time, and the visual hits keep coming as we visit a peaceful ocean planet - only to watch as it goes up in apocalyptic flame. But that won't be the last time it comes in to play as we join Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) on a mission to retrieve a creature - the last of its kind known in existence - from a massive bazaar/black market located in another dimension (which requires special equipment just to visit). Thus we are treated to one of the many action scenes, part of which is reminiscent of the Fifth Element, as Valerian's equipment becomes damaged and he is forced to run through the massive storefront in order to escape with the creature and outrun black market dealer Igon Siruss (voiced by John Goodman) and the local guards.
Valerian's strength, is, of course, in the visual effects. From creature creation, to stunning vistas, costume design and the various alien races - it is truly one of the most visually spectacular films I have seen. Plus, where else are you going to see Rihanna play a morphing sex-slave under control of a guy named Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke, providing an excellent cameo himself)? A lot of effort went in to making all the different alien species, and it shows. It's almost sensory overload at times trying to keep up with everything.
But visuals can only take you so far, and Valerians fault lies in it meandering story and somewhat underwhelming leads. Although DeHaan and Delevingne have good chemistry, it's hard to say they are right for the roles. DeHaan comes across as a Han Solo type - all swagger and confidence, and his series of conquests (referred to as his playlist) is easy to believe - less so is his sudden and complete devotion to Laureline. The romance feels a bit forced to me, though Delevingne does her best to remain the cool, calm one, rebuking all attempts at any mention of marriage or love. In fact, my favorite scenes with her aren't with DeHaan, but rather a trio of bird-like information brokers - that was just fun and she also gets the funniest scene in the film trying to interact with a non-translated, brutish race who just wants to dress her up for a big dinner. It sounds weird, but I laughed the loudest during that part.
Despite the story playing a bit too loose, Valerian is a sci-fi dream come true. It doesn't have to be a huge hit in the U.S. to make money, but if you skip this in theaters, you are truly missing out on some spectacular visuals. Besson makes up for Lucy in my mind and I he claims to have more movies in line for these characters - I can't wait to see what he does next.