Film review: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (2017)

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ” (2017)

Science Fiction/Fantasy

3-stars

Running Time: 137 minutes

Written & Directed by: Luc Besson

Featuring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, and Rutger Hauer

Doghan-Dagui:We know how humans work. They are all so predictable.” 

Sergeant Laureline:Clearly, you have never met a woman.”

There are very few directors at work today making films the way Luc Besson does, he works outside of major American studios creating what can only be called concept movies that challenge what it means to be a film-maker not only in this century but last century as well. Besson has made some of the most memorable as well as intriguing characters in film, all while working mostly in a second language, something many people forget. Whilst his earliest creations were French, such as his second film “Subway” (1985) followed by the brilliant “The Big Blue” (1988), they translated so well internationally that it was not long before he made his first genre film with the stunning as well as unforgettable “La Femme Nikita” (1990), a film that broke Jean Reno, leading to his starring role in the international hit “Leon, The Professional” (1994), which featured a young Natalie Portman.

While Besson’s narrative style is unique, so to is his visual flair, which can be seen in all of his early movies, but it was not until his Science Fiction masterpiece “The Fifth Element” (1997) that all of his sensibilities came together with cutting edge special effects so that he could complete a vision of the future, with a touch of comedy, drama as well as what could only be described as grandiosity. Of course there is a strong link between “The Fifth Element” and this months new mega budgeted film “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (2017), that being Jean-Claude Mézières who co-created the comic Valerian is based on (Valérian and Laureline) as well as being the production designer on “The Fifth Element”, this is also evident while watching both movies – they share the same DNA. One based directly on a French comic the other highly influenced by comics as well as pop culture.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is set in the 28th century, the former International Space Station has become Alpha, a city where millions of creatures from different planets live peacefully and exchange their knowledge and cultures. The humans form a special police division to preserve the peace within Alpha, including officers Valerian, a major, and his partner Laureline, a sergeant.

While on-route to receive a new mission, Valerian dreams of a planet where a low-tech humanoid race lives peacefully. They fish for energy-containing pearls and use certain animals, referred to as “converters”, to duplicate them. As the planet is destroyed by massive debris crashing onto the planet, the natives flee to shelter, but a single female is trapped outside and manages to send a telepathic signal before dying.

To say this movie has a sprawling storyline is an understatement but as I really do not want to spoil anything I will just say the plot is, actually fairly straight forward, as well as pretty easy to see where the characters are going to end up. The fun for me in the film was the narrative that moves around the place like balls on a pool table, you may think there is absolutely no logic but as you weave your way through the story with the myriad characters you start to see a pattern forming. I for one enjoyed the seeming randomness of where the main characters end up after a protracted journey, meeting unique as well as pretty lovable characters, the best I thought was Rhianna as a shape changing blue being called Bubble – taking advantage of all Rihanna’s talents.

The casting in this film is interesting to say the least; it has the oddest leads in a Besson movie yet, with relative newcomer and unknown Dane DeHaan in the titular role as well as an inexperienced Cara Delavigne as his sidekick/love interest Laureline. For Besson to place the film in these two actors hands was brave as it could have been a disaster, not that they are terrible actors but to act in front of the amount of special effects could have been overwhelmingly, for the most part they both pull it off, in my mind Delavigne seems more suited as well as a spark against the out of place DeHann. The rest of the cast is highlighted by Clive Owen as Commander Arun Filitt who has never been in a movie like this, but as the archetypal villain he is well suited, it would be great to see him in more films like this, lending some well earned gravitas from his previous work.

As you can see in the trailers to this movie, the special effects as well as the makeup of all the alien characters are extremely well realized. Not only that, but the mise en scène is incredibly dense, every frame of almost every scene has depths that are eerily similar to Besson’s “The Fifth Element”, so much so that I swear I spotted similar aliens in both. The way in which the origin of the ‘City of a thousand planets’ is not only shown as well as told is unique for a science fiction film, all done in the opening credits over the David Bowie song “Space Oddity” which, while not completely original is a great way to not only play homage to Bowie but instantly assists the audience identify with the movie – very smart move. With movies like this there can be a temptation to fill it with CGI thereby destroying some of the inherit reality that a filmmaker is trying to go for. Within this movie there are long periods of just CGI as well as computer generated characters which because of their setting, whether on an alien plant, Mül, or in Alpha, the CGI is top notch as well as quite believebale, its as good as anything in the Star Wars series, maybe even better because this is more original as well as more thought out in terms of the depth of the field of vision.

My only real issue with this film is the odd relationship between the two leads Valerian and Laureline, where within the first few moments he has asked her to marry him, she will not of course because he is some kind of futuristic lothario who has a playlist that is full of female conquests. For the entire rest of the film his only real aim other than the maguffin of the movie is to get Laureline to marry him, I found that really strange. I mean the only relationship they have is the commander/subordinate role, but for some unknown reason he suddenly wants to make her his wife. This detracts from the entire rest of the movie, every time there is some momentum within the main narrative, it comes to a screeching halt as there is too much time put into the marriage angle. Now, I can understand if there was a subplot involving a budding romance, but to go straight to marriage is just plain strange.

I have to say that I really enjoyed my time with this film, sure it’s a little long but that is aptly mitigated by the special effects as well as the surprise that is Cara Delevingne as Laureline who more than makes up for aspects of the story as well as the possible miscasting of Dane DeHann as Valerian. It appears that if Delevingne plays her cards right as well as chooses some roles that she can fit within, learn from some experienced co-stars she might have a nice career ahead of her, I would recommend staying away from starring roles and stay as a flashy character’s actor for now. This is a family rated movie with no real content that will offend, but it will catch and keep the eye busy for most of its run – go and take the family now.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ” is out now only in theatres.

 

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