Synopsis: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: Luc Besson
Running Length: 137 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Plenty of people (aka snobby critics) are going to tell you how terrible Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets is before you’ll get a chance to see the movie and judge for yourself. That’s too bad because while Valerian admittedly has its hefty share of major problems, every now and then something kinda brilliant happens. Popping into theaters showing movies that reek of summer sameness, Valerian at least has some imagination up its over-the-top and messy sleeves.
I’m not familiar with the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, that inspired director/screenwriter Luc Besson (The Family). From what I hear it remained tremendously popular since it was originally published in 1967 all the way through to its final issue in 2010 so its no wonder that studios interested in selling their film globally would invest in what Besson had in mind. Even if it tanks at the US box office (which, sadly, it will) it most surely will turn a profit in the international market.
The screening I attended had some major 3D projection issues during the five-minute montage that opens the film, showing the progression of space habitation as the years tick away. Passing by in a blur (literally) the universe evolves to welcome all forms of alien life from around the galaxy. The generally well-rendered CGI beings that Besson introduces us to first are Avatar-ish chrome domes living in a pastel colored planet that get major feels from pearls pooped out of a cute creature. I’ll let that last sentence sink in a moment. Have you recovered? Let’s move forward.
Just when the planet and its inhabitants are threatened by objects crash landing from sky the film cuts quickly to Valerian (Dane DeHaan, Lawless) who has just awoke in a cold sweat. Was it all in his head or is he in possession of historical knowledge hidden deep within? Before we get to that answer Besson makes a costly error out of the gate by awkwardly introducing us to Major Valerian and his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne, Suicide Squad) with a battle of the sexes sparring that would have seemed trivial on Moonlighting. DeHaan and Delevingne have zero chemistry, radiating genial brother-sister admiration much more than any carnal craves.
Valerian and Laureline are mid-mission in a race to obtain a precious element (no, not The Fifth Element) that winds up playing a big part in explaining Valerian’s other-planetary visions. There’s not enough megabites in this blog to go into details on where Besson takes our plucky hero and heroine but I can tell you that it involves singer Rihanna (Battleship) as a shape shifting blue alien that has Ethan Hawke (Sinister) for a pimp, a race through an underwater world of sea monsters, Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) strangely voicing a male alien royal, and Herbie Hancock as Valerian and Laureline’s exhausted boss. To all you Rutger Hauer fans, don’t blink or you’ll miss his barely there cameo.
This film is without a doubt totally cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs but it’s sheer brazen wackiness is what winds up keeping it afloat when Besson’s script falters and its stars stall out. There’s barely a moment when things are at a standstill and yet the action onscreen is delivered with such fervent fury throughout I was never not entertained in one way or another. How much you get out of the film is entirely dependent on how much you’re willing to just go with the flow and know that everyone else in the audience thinks its as bizarre as you do.
I was wanting an immersive experience for Valerian so I opted for a seat close to the screen, only to move the back row 20 minutes in when I was started getting seasick. Besson’s never been a filmmaker that knows what subtle means (I mean did you SEE Lucy?) and in many ways, that’s what helps this one wind up in the Good Bad Movie category. Laughably overlong at 137 minutes, you’ll have to be in the right frame of mind to like it but if you’re up for a nutso ride into Besson’s candy-colored brain then this is the movie for you.