Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
Directed by: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson
Starring: Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Dane DeHaan, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Rihanna, Rutger Hauer
It’s been sometime since Luc Besson has really shown how good a film maker he is and Valerian looked like it would be a return to his 90’s heyday. The opening few minutes are mesmerising, with some amazing effects work, and it does an excellent job establishing its premise. Everything looks promising until we meet the titular character, Valerian, played by Dane DeHaan, channelling Keanu Reeves (the wooden performance could be forgiven, considering the appalling dialogue he’s got to work with). If his mind isn’t on the job, it’s only on one other thing, and that’s getting into his colleague’s knickers. Laureline, played by Cara Delevigne, works alongside Valerian as soldiers running various dangerous missions. And when they’re not on the job, she’s constantly rejecting his advances, like a drunk guy hitting on someone at bar and not taking no for an answer. It can only be assumed that Valerian was written with a Han Solo type character in mind, oozing with charm, and a little bit cocky. Unfortunately charm is something the script lacks and just comes across as creepy and annoying, which is a damn shame, as it drags down what would otherwise be a very entertaining space epic.
As for a plot, it’s a galactic conspiracy, that’s pretty much cast aside for a series of semi-relevant action set pieces, or it’s just an excuse to have the most out there sci-fi situations you could possibly imagine. The world building in this film is astounding, with some occasionally breathtaking visuals. Be it a beautiful tropical planet, or the mind bending market, which is a confusingly brilliant combination of alternate dimensions and virtual reality, which works so well, it’s actually a little disappointing when the sequence ends. There’s a plethora of set pieces and aliens, all are as amusing or exciting as the last, and it’s these parts where the film excels. Meeting all the different species and seeing different locations and structures on this scale are disappointingly scarce in big budget blockbusters these days, and if it were not for the howler of a script, this could perhaps have been the first of many to come. Every time things start to gel, and it feels like you’re watching something truly special, the lead opens his mouth and ruins everything that’s been building up to that point.
There’s a lot of similarities with Besson’s previously successful foray into sci-fi, as The Fifth Element also played host to some great characters and world building, and again it wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Despite the heinous script, Valerian is a fun sci-fi adventure, whose secondary characters are the stand out, with some of the most impressive and gorgeous special effects that we’ve seen in a long time. If you can get past Dane DeHaan and his awful character, and a script that’s twenty years past its best, there’s a hell of a lot to enjoy.