Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Luc Besson.
Written by: Luc Besson based on the comic by Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières.
Starring: Cara Delevingne (Laureline), Dane DeHaan (Valerian), Elizabeth Debicki (Haban Limaï), Ethan Hawke (Jolly the Pimp), John Goodman (Merchant), Clive Owen (Commander Arün Filitt), Rihanna (Bubble).
Can I tell you that Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a good movie? No, I cannot. Can I tell you that it is the kind of absolutely visually bonkers film that also has a real sense of fun that kept a smile plastered on my face from beginning to end, even as I knew that the film was particularly good? Yes, I can. This is the type of film that only someone like Besson could make – and only someone like Besson would want to make. From a storytelling point of view, the film is an absolute mess – I’m not sure I could tell you what anyone was doing at any particularly point of time in the movie, or why they were doing it. I also didn’t much care, because I was having so much fun anyway. And that’s before Rihanna shows up and does a shape shifting dance routine, that I won’t say is the most fun I’ve had in a theater this year, but I won’t not say that either.
The story, such as it is, centers of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Lauerline (Cara Delevingne) – who work for some sort of intergalactic police force (I think), who is tasked with recovering a strange, small animal – the last of its kind – who can replicate anything you give it (again, I think – don’t quote me on any of this). First they have to get it from a crooked merchant, located in some sort of market, only accessible while wearing strange googles, where you have to carry a large box in order to smuggle in weapons. Then they have to bring it to Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) for reasons that I am currently unclear of. It doesn’t much matter though, because Filitt is abducted shortly after Valerian and Laureline arrive. In the aftermath, Laureline has to go and try and rescue Valerian, and then later, he’ll have to rescue her – and somehow this all ties in with the peaceful alien creatures and their pearls that look like they got lost on their way to Pandora, who then watch as their planet is destroyed.
Let’s be honest though, the plot doesn’t really matter here – and nor does the dialogue (thank god) which at times feels like it was written in another language and then put through Google translate into English. Valerian and Laureline’s first scene is particularly awkward, as he tries to confess his love for her, and she shoots him done. It’s a problem that unfortunately I don’t think Dane DeHaan ever quite manages to overcome – he’s not goofy or funny or charming enough to really pull off this role. Delevingne however is just about perfect as Laureline – delivering a fine comedic performance, that reminded me a little of Emma Stone (and made me feel better about liking her so much in her first film – The Face of an Angel – and the rethinking after she was perhaps the worst one in Suicide Squad – not that it was really her fault, you try hula dancing in front of a CGI portal and not come across terribly).
The reason to see the film though is because Besson overstuffs every frame of this film with something to look at – and not just something, something different. I think one of the biggest problems with many CGI driven blockbusters today is that they all look the same – either because directors lack the ability or will to push special effects to deliver them something unique or because the tight timelines many of these movies run on don’t give them time. There is as much CGI in Valerian is there is in any movie you’ll see this year – but it is wholly on its own thing, its own style – and that style is all Luc Besson.
No, the film doesn’t hit the heights of something like Besson’s The Fifth Element – the best moments, especially Rihanna’s dance sequence – come very close, but the film doesn’t quite go that far into over-the-top brilliant madness. But it’s not for lack of trying – and I for one am all for someone like Besson, taking $200 million, and just going nuts with it. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is a good movie or not. What I do know, is that I had a hell of lot fun with it, and I’m pretty sure that was the point of this movie in the first place.