Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Prolific Parisian Luc Besson’s many credits include creating the Taken series and handling the recent and ludicrous Lucy, but he always wanted to adapt writer Pierre Christin and illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières comic series Valérian And Laureline.

Now, 20 years after his The Fifth Element, he finally has. It’s a gargantuan, sprawling 3D extravaganza crammed with beguiling sci-fi imagery and gorgeously fantastique ideas, and while it rather lacks the humour and soul of Element, this is still quite an experience and even, dare it be said, a trip.

A wonderful opening montage spanning hundreds of years details advances in space travel and contact with extraterrestrials. It includes a possible nod to Element, a cameo by Rutger Hauer and a tribute to Besson’s pal and late lamented starman David Bowie, although his classic Space Oddity becomes less a song about existential despair and more, somehow, a symbol of possibility and hope. We’re then introduced to the beautiful and peaceful denizens of the planet Mül. When their idyllic existence is cut short, a cry for help is sent across time and space.

This is intercepted in a dream by Valerian (Dane DeHaan), a human interstellar police agent in the 28th Century, who doesn’t understand its significance and is too busy behaving recklessly and trying it on with colleague Laureline (Cara Delevigne). They’re a pretty pair lacking the charm of Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich in Element, but we’re forced to side with them as they raid an inter-dimensional bazaar (or something) and basically steal a unique critter called a converter which can excrete mystical pearls.

Valerian and Laureline return to Alpha, the gargantuan space city of the title, where dozens of life forms live together in peace and harmony (or at least for the moment), and meet up with Commander Alun Filitt, who’s played by Clive Owen with such barely-repressed villainy all he needed was a mustache to twirl. He insists that Alpha has been infected by an unknown force. Their efforts to track down the truth take them through some wild cityscapes (all greenscreen and FX, as this was shot in studios in Saint-Denis outside Paris) and unearth conspiracies that strain to score environmental and multicultural brownie points.

DeHaan and Delevigne are a little wet here, although this is hardly an ‘actor’s movie’ as it’s all about the spectacle. There is some fun to be had watching Ethan Hawke as ‘Jolly the Pimp’ and Rihanna as alien chameleon/exotic dancer Bubble, though, as well as picking voice roles by everyone from Mathieu Kassovitz to John Goodman (who must have been offended at first when Besson offered him the chance for to portray a fat extraterrestrial scumbag).

At more than two hours, there’s way too much dazzlingly going on here, and towards the end it’s impossible not to think that you’re ever so slightly losing your mind.

Rated M. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is in cinemas now.

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