Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) EuropaCorp Films, screenplay and directed by Luc Besson.

I’m a very forgiving film-goer. If a story is really good, or if a filmmaker has a particularly unique or ground-breaking vision I’m happy to buy into it. In short, I’d rather see films that are out of the ordinary and aren’t just playing it safe. Sadly, Luc Besson’s latest offering isn’t any of those things.

The source for this extravaganza are the much-loved and celebrated comic books by Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin, which first appeared in the 1970’s and I confess I haven’t read them, though I plan to in coming weeks.

I should point out my allegiance from the outset. Lucy (2014) and Subway (1985) are interesting films I really enjoyed, and Leon: The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997) while both flawed movies remain firm personal favourites. But from the very start, there’s something not quite right about Valerian.

It opened very promisingly, with the wonderful set up of Alpha (and a much too brief cameo by Rutger Hauer). In the first act however, there’s a narrative misstep that set up a dissonance which jarred and stayed with me for the whole film. On the plus side, the visuals are sumptuous, the styling is really beautiful and the fight scenes (hand to hand and space battles) are well choreographed.

The second act lost its way badly, getting bogged down in an unnecessary subplot. This held up the action and made me focus more on the actors. While I admire Clive Owen, I feel he was only there for the pay check. Sam Spruell was much better as General Okto-Bar and both Herbie Hancock and Ethan Hawke were too briefly on screen.

With respect to casting, three things stand out in this film. Firstly, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are very pretty and have the right look for the film. As a property that’s developed from an existing visual source, that’s reasonably important. Secondly, they couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper bag and have zero on-screen chemistry. One of the many saving graces of The Fifth Element is the casting of some serious acting talent, in particular, established action star Bruce Willis, who carries the film on his back, with able assistance from Ian Holm and the always watchable Gary Oldman. Sadly, there is no heavyweight help here – they don’t have enough screen time to pull it out of the mire. Third and finally, while I’m no fan of her music, Rihanna is fabulous as Bubble, and I think it’s worth seeing this just for her scenes.

I think in many ways Valerian shows how far ahead of its time The Fifth Element was. Besson has admitted that the original comics influenced his earlier film greatly and there were framing moments, edits in action scenes, even sections of dialogue in Valerian that took me back to it. So I think I’ll watch The Fifth Element again.

In conclusion, it’s an okay popcorn flick, the two leads drag it down but it was worth paying to see it on the big screen just for the spectacle.

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