VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (6.5 out of 10) Written and Directed by Luc Besson; Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock; Running time 2 hrs 17 min; Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language; In wide release July 21, 2017.
Luc Besson’s adaptation of the French comic series Valérian and Laureline takes us to a visually dazzling future, but the intricate worldbuilding is largely derivative. Imagine taking some of the most iconic science fiction films and mixing them in a stew, and you get Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
I kept a mental list of all the movies Valerian brought to mind, and it included Star Wars (most notably Attack of the Clones, with its Coruscant-like city levels), Stargate, Blade Runner, and of course Besson’s own The Fifth Element. But is it really stealing if you’re stealing from yourself? And did George Lucas steal from the comics version of Valerian and Laureline first? In other words, the exotic creatures and locales in Valerian the movie are wondrous and somewhat familiar.
The opening sequence takes us to the world Mul inhabited by creatures that look like the offspring of Na’vi and Kaminoans. But the world is a paradise, where blue sky meets water, or the rough equivalent of it, and beloved rulers reign and everyone says good morning in their native tongue. It is a place of peace and prosperity. The movements of the characters were so fluid and graceful that I wondered how difficult it was to create that from motion capture.
Unfortunately we are whisked away from this idyllic place and meet Valerian and Laureline. Valerian is your usual lothario who tries to win the heart of his co-worker, but Laureline isn’t taken in by his awkward charm. The two obviously care for each other, and repeatedly risk their lives to save the other, but she is sticking to her guns (literally and figuratively) and won’t be simply another conquest for Valerian.
They are tasked by their military superiors to retrieve a special converter that leads them to uncover a conspiracy that could wipe out an entire race. We accompany them while they pretend to be tourists on a desert planet where they infiltrate Jabba’s palace (well, okay, not Jabba but a blobby character voiced by John Goodman) and proceed to showcase their many talents as government agents so we know when everything hits the fan later they’re capable of handling it. This is to offset that they barely look like they’re out of high school.
With all the visual effects wizardry, I expected more wooden performances, but other than the fact that Laureline shouted Valerian’s name too much and Rihanna didn’t quite pull off all of her scenes, none of the performances were jarring. Rihanna plays Bubble, a glampod that Valerian enlists to help him rescue Laureline. This is where the movie ventures into that-could-have-been-cut territory. It veers away from the main plot, and while it provides opportunity to see more of the lavish world created for the film, as well as some incredible costumes, it feels more like a side quest.
Clive Owen’s character dresses like Colonel Sanders from Spaceballs, and he’s a clichéd military commander. I didn’t recognize Ethan Hawke in his brief appearance—probably from the overabundance of eyeliner—but he was familiar enough I made a mental note to look for his character in the credits.
And what is the logic behind calling the movie Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets instead of Valerian and Laureline? Or simply City of A Thousand Planets, since many people (myself included) didn’t realize beforehand that the story was based on a comic series and possibly have no idea who or what Valerian is.
Though I thought the film a bit too long, it was a fun adventure to the 28th century, and while I think Besson fell a bit short of some of his previous work (La Femme Nikita, The Professional), he created a fun summer movie.