We all had incredibly high hopes after seeing the visually intriguing trailer for Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, the “space opera” (their words not mine) set in the 28th century and adapted from the French comic book series Valérian and Laureline. Even the opening scene, a pyrotechnic extravaganza to the soundtrack of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, has promise written all over it. Sadly, the lack of chemistry and magnetism between the two main protagonists just makes everything fall flat. They aren’t interesting at all and their dialogue feels clunky and forced with their quips not even getting a snigger from the audience. Yet, even with all its pitfalls, Luc Besson’s fantastical world has an element of campy goodness that is a must-see.
Major Valerian (A Cure for Wellness‘s Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (model-turned-actor Cara Delevingne) are essentially space police and partners who are almost instantly sent out on a dangerous mission (which is too convoluted to explain). Before said mission, Valerian proposes marriage to Laureline, which, let’s be honest, is an hour ahead of the normal run time. This clearly sets him up as the rash and impulsive guy and partner, and Laureline as the more level-headed heroine (I hate those stereotypes. Woman can be stupid and impulsive too). They are assigned with the task of protecting the commissioner, Arun Filitt (Clive Owen), whom you instantly know is either a super douche or a bad guy given that his score music sounds like Darth Vader’s theme. Big explosion – the commissioner is kidnapped and Valerian sets off to find him with Laureline in hot pursuit.
Bubble (Rihanna) and Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) are compelling characters that added some sort of levity and wonder. DeHaan and Rihanna seemed to have more chemistry than he does with his fellow lead. What saves this ambitious film from itself is the stunning visuals that transport you to your wildest imaginings (that and Rihanna). Even when the overstuffed film feels exhausting, the wonderful use of colour and the beautiful design of the queer worlds holds our attention.
Not unlike Disney’s John Carter movie, spiralling through the same familiar terrain as every other CGI-infested blockbuster and often coming off the rails, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a little disappointing, even if it doesn’t skimp on the visuals. You would expect more than this from the guy that directed the film’s spiritual sibling, Fifth Element.
All that said, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is still an endearing must-see film, if only for the visuals alone (and yes, in 3D). This mind-bending shaggy adventure will satisfy you until the next Avatar. Rumour has it that the director is already working on scripts for Valerian 2 and 3, which means more stunning visuals and, hopefully, a fresher narrative.