Luc Besson returns to epic sci-fi with Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets , 20 years after his masterpiece, The Fifth Element. Does he manage to recapture the magic?
Lets get real. I really liked Valerian. I feel like I maybe shouldn’t have, but it definitely worked for me on a lot of levels.
I’m a long time fan of Luc Besson, the French director behind Valerian. Since the 90’s Besson has been making truly bold, original and exciting films. From Léon (The Professional) and The Fifth Element through to Lucy, Besson has always given us something different. He may wear his influences proudly, but always gives all of his films his unique touch.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an adaptation of a 1960’s french comic, that has apparently been a huge influence on Besson’s work. Having not read the books, I can’t really assess that, however, I did see a lot of The Fifth Element in Valerian.
Hundreds of years in the future, humans are exploring the universe and are part of an intergalactic government. Dane Dehaan’s Valerian is a Human Federation agent, who, along with his partner Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are basically the space FBI.
Valerian and Laureline are given a mission to retrieve stolen property, which leads them into a web of mystery, deception and CGI Aliens. The story is pretty thin, so revealing too much would almost certainly spoil it for you. However, Valerian is one of those movies where it’s more how things happen that makes it enjoyable. Everything is leading to Alpha, the titular City of a Thousand Planets. The opening titles of the film show Alpha’s creation and evolution set to Space Oddity by David Bowie, which really sets the tone for the next two hours. Spaced out and trippy.
There’s an extended scene of a heist that takes place in Big Market, a shopping market in an alternate dimension, only visible with special glasses. It’s fantastic and crazy and totally wonderful. It also introduced some alien villains, Jabba the Hutt-esque and surely planned for a potential sequel.
Paper thin plot aside, Valerian is a pulpy space opera. Besson is clearly having a great time behind the camera, even if Dehaan’s Valerian comes off a little flat. He comes across like Keanu Reeves-lite. Cara Delevigne seems to have had some flack in the press, but I really liked her as Laureline. She’s impossibly beautiful, of course, but comes across more as a self assured hero than I expected. Besson always has strong female characters, even when they’re portrayed as a sidekick. (Leeloo Dallas Multipass anybody?)
The supporting cast was strong, yet filled with baffling choices. Herbie Hancock as the head of the Federation, Ethan Hawke as a super flamboyant, sassy pimp and Rihanna as Bubble the shape-shifting alien were all great but so randomly placed. It was great seeing Clive Owen pop up too, a great actor who elevates every film he’s in. Bonus points go to Besson’s casting director for a Rutger Hauer cameo too, still criminally underused these days.
I do understand why not everyone would like Valerian. It’s slow. It’s weird. The chemistry between the leads is a little flat and the dialogue is unrealistic and odd. However, its very stylised and totally unapologetic for what it is. Sadly, as it looks like it’s going to flop, we wont get to see any further adventures of Valerian and Laureline. Which I think is a great shame. I do think we will see a critical reappraisal of Valerian in a few years, this is a film that will find its audience eventually.
Packed full of amazing creature design, glorious visuals and Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score, Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets is a stunning Sci Fi adventure, retro futurism at its finest.
For Fans Of:
The Fifth Element
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