Director Luc Besson has long wanted to make the 1967 French graphic serial Valerian and Laureline into a movie since the 70’s. This was even before Star Wars became such a sensation, and in fact many think the Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezeires creation perhaps inspired that landmark 1977 film. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), it certainly inspired Besson, and now — with a reputed budget upward of $200 million — he finally has brought his own vision to the screen.
Inevitably, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will be seen by naysayers as a knockoff of the iconic George Lucas films, but I can only judge what is on the screen. Wacky as the story is, and wooden as some of the acting is, including brooding lead Dane DeHaan, the pure visual Technicolored visual wonder of Besson’s view of the 28th century, along with some way-out-there supporting characters, won me over. It is a must in 3D, where this time that format actually makes a difference.
The story starts in the year 2740 and follows the mission of Major Valerian (DeHaan) and his partner Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) as they set out on orders from the Minister of Defense (jazz great Herbie Hancock) to save Alpha, a civilized and massive space station known as “the City of a Thousand Planets.” It is there that humans and creatures of all forms — thousands of species, actually — have converged to share their intelligence, knowledge and culture. If ever there was a more diverse place, I don’t know where you would find it. First they stop on the Planet Kirian, where they hit the poor part of town in search of a tiny creature known as the Mul Converter who apparently holds the key to saving the peaceful Alpha, which is under threat from sinister forces. Once they have accomplished that, they head to Alpha to look out for Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen), who has different plans of his own.
All sorts of things happen: Laureline is kidnapped and Valerian soon finds the loony red-light district Pleasure Alley, where he encounters two of the movie’s most entertaining characters, Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) and Bubble, who is some sort of shape-shifting stripper played by none other than Rihanna, who is mesmerizing and has a record number of costume changes in her big scene. She’s mesmerizing, even if she doesn’t really have to act much here. Hawke is a hoot, and so for that matter are three duck-billed creatures who finish one another’s sentences but provide useful information for a price.
Eventually it all leads to the Red Zone and the beginning of the end — or is it? The fun of it all is the look, and it dazzles throughout in so many ways. Besson has gotten every last dollar on the screen. Unfortunately, he misses with the casting of the two leads, DeHaan and Delevingne, particularly the former, who just doesn’t have the charisma this part needs. His flat-line readings don’t help, but there is no sense of a real hero in his portrayal. Delevingne doesn’t fare a whole lot better and seems to be trying too hard. Chemistry between them is zero. Owen is fine in his Commander role, but it isn’t much of a stretch for a fine actor who clearly is picking up a paycheck here. Maybe the by-the-numbers acting by the key leads is part of the point of a movie that feels like a very expensive old-fashioned kids picture. It is Besson’s show all the way, and he delivers on what he promised. STX opens the film stateside next Friday.
Do you plan to see it? Let us know what you think.