By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on the highly influential French comic book series, Valérian and Laureline, writer/director Luc Besson’s adaptation is a vibrantly colored feast for the eyes, has loads of exciting and highly entertaining creatures and characters, and has world-building for days. It seems, though, that Besson has put too many eggs in one basket with this movie and the story and character development suffers as a result. It also doesn’t help that the lead actor delivers a bland performance and shares very little chemistry with his partner/love interest. The end result is a bloated and cluttered movie that seems to deviate too much from its central focus.
Dane DeHaan stars as Major Valerian, a skilled agent for the Spatio-Temporal Service who, with his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne), handle special missions which have them traveling across space and time. The story takes place in the distant future when humanity has already made contact with species of many other planets. Humans, along with thousands of people from other worlds have created a massive space station city named Alpha outside of Earth where they can interact and learn from each other. Valerian and Laureline get called away from R&R to stop an illegal deal on a merchant planet. After intervening, the two agents uncover a larger, more insidious plot that could endanger the entire universe.
Based on the comics created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had the potential of being an extraordinary introduction to a fun and exciting movie universe, but Besson tries way too hard to include way too many elements in the film. The movie deviates way too often from the central plot and often comes across as ADHD storytelling. Besson goes on too many tangents and fails to drive his central message in a truly compelling way. That said; the movie does deliver in some exciting and entertaining ways. The visuals are gorgeous and amazing. The action sequences offer solid thrills and one can really appreciate the extraordinary imagination of Christin and Mézières whose comics from the 1960s would go on to influence other influential works such as Star Wars and Besson’s own creation, The Fifth Element. The film has so much going for it, but Besson tried to do too much with this first installment.
I also wasn’t all that impressed with Dane DeHaan who delivers a dull performance as the “hero” of the story. I did not find his character all that interesting or charismatic and did not see any compelling reason for Laureline to fall in love with him, other than the fact that they are forced to spend tremendous amounts of time together and often alone. I found Delevingue’s Laureline more interesting, as she gives her character a very likable mettle, but even her character lacks some development. The movie does have a more exciting supporting cast which includes Clive Owen, who stars as Commander Arün Filitt, and performs mostly well, save for a few over-the-top moments. Singer/actress Rhianna delivers a fun and entertaining, scene-stealing turn as Bubble, an agile dancer who, after delivering a show-stopping number, decides to help Valerian on his mission. Ethan Hawke has a blast as the wild-eyed, but sleazy Jolly the Pimp, the emcee of Bubble’s show. The movie also features some strange and fun appearances by musician Herbie Hancock, Rutger Hauer, and John Goodman.
Now even though I have some strong and valid complaints about how messy this film is, I cannot deny the fun that I did have with it. I am sure that there are and will be some fans of Luc Besson who will eat all of this up and enjoy it thoroughly. For those folks, they should, by all means, go see this film theatrically. The visuals do demand theatrical presentation and would be best enjoyed that way. For those who are on the fence about Besson, this film could be either watched as a matinee or at home. As for myself, I do very much like some of Besson’s other films, but feel this one represents the filmmaker at a more unleashed level. All of the great elements are available to him, but the filmmaker tried to play with too many toys at the same time.