With a $180,000,000 budget and the director of The Fifth Element (Luc Besson) at its helm, hopes were high for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It is glorious to look at and for the first thirty minutes it thrusts viewers into a fantastical world of virtual reality, intergalactic adventure, and sassy romance. Unfortunately the characters become so ridiculous, the story so convoluted, and the world so silly that it is hard to keep rooting for the heroes.
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are a team of operatives working for the Minister of Defense. They are given the task of entering a dangerous section of planet Alpha to save a cat sized, dragon-type creature who, when fed a pearl, reproduces dozens more by apparently pooping them out?
DeHaan is charming and engaging without possessing the level of swagger of a Han Solo or Star Lord. Delevingne also is refreshingly misfit into the typical female hero types. She’s smart but not snide, quirky but not clumsy, sassy but not cruel, and although she is sexy, Besson chose to not over sexualize her. The two have an odd but effective chemistry and they look fabulous.
The plot gets stranger. It turns out that the Minister of Defense (Clive Owen in a ridiculously cartoonish performance), wanted the team to capture the pearl-pooping dragon because he is the last of his kind alive, and because enemy aliens cannot continue to exist without him. There are some predictable outcomes to this portion of the story but getting to those outcomes is not nearly the fun that is had at the beginning of the film.
Add into this story a Beetlejuice type smarmy pimp (Ethan Hawke), and a strangely flat performance from the usually compelling Rihanna. She plays a gelatinous creature who can mimic the shape, form, vocalizations and movements of other creatures. Now add in a bit about a planet called Mul, and the awkwardly moving CGI creatures which inhabit it, and swirl them together.
The film is inspired by a French comic book of the same name and in brief instances one can see Besson’s reproduction as a live-action version of the comic, but as an overall storytelling technique for the screen, it is ineffective.
There are things to like about this strange picture and it will likely have some infamy as a cult classic but its weaknesses will likely keep it from Sci-Fi glory.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Pierre Chrisin
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke
Runtime: 137 minutes
Release date: July 21, 2017
MPAA rating: PG-13