Directed by: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson, Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna
Swift shot: I set the bar very low for Valerian, I just wanted to be entertained. On that point, the film was a success, because Besson is a master at creating worlds, and his imagination displayed on screen is praiseworthy. But, the kids, we need to talk about these kids. You know those commercials where you see kids pretending to be adults? That is exactly what was wrong with Valerian, every time they did something that had an air of maturity, it was like watching kids pretending to be grown ups. And, it was painful to watch the lack of any chemistry between DeHaan and Delevingne. But, luckily Rihanna comes in to provide some much needed chemistry.
The opening sequence of the film was a real treat, as it ties our world into Valerian’s . . . albeit almost 500 years into the future, so, on some level these are characters we should be able to relate to. If only they could relate to one another better.
Valerian (DeHaan) is a Major in the United Human Federation (UHF), basically he is referred to as a federal agent. His partner Laureline (Delevingne) is a Sergeant, who is apparently a genius, and where Valerian lacks smarts, he is supposed to have skills and field experience to his . . . junior. She’s what, six days younger than the “grizzled” Major? This element grated on me throughout the film, and I couldn’t ever take their scenes together seriously. It was kinda like watching an old fifties space serial where the plot and characters came across as ridiculous, but you tried to be entertained despite the nonsense.
[Swift aside: why in the hell is an ivy-league scholar a Sergeant? She couldn’t hack becoming an officer? I’m just annoyed by these little things. And I would have cast Ethan Hawke as the lead and made De Haan the pimp, not sure why Besson made Valerian so young.]
In the beginning, we see a vast expanse where a peaceful race called The Pearls from planet Mül dances around blissfully unaware that a giant space battle is raging above them. A behemoth ship crashes into their planet, and we see one young princess die in a brilliant arc of blue energy, which then wakes up Valerian from a dream. He can replay his dreams back, which I thought was pretty cool. He keeps that in mind and saves it for later when it will make zero sense as it’s revealed why that was significant.
Just as he experiences that dream about Mül, he and his partner are assigned to retrieve a Mül Converter at an extra-dimensional bazaar called Big Market. The thing with Big-Market is that it exists on different dimensions, and you have to wear special equipment to access the many vast shops and bars. Laureline is providing backup as Valerian makes his way covertly to the hangout of a Khodar’Khan called Igon Siruss (John Goodman) where he does manage to get the odd little converter creature that somewhat resembles Epcot’s Figment.
But Igon isn’t going to let them get away with this transgression, and he sicks his giant dog-like creature after the whole team. I really liked the Igon angle, but sadly he is only in one scene of the film.
Valerian and Laureline head to Alpha station to return the converter to the UHF, but as it becomes apparent that there are many different things after this poor creature, Laureline decides to keep it on her for safe keeping, despite orders from her commanding officers. It’s a good thing, for their mission anyway, that she defied the orders, because a group of Pearls kidnaps the UHF Commander, Arun Filitt (Clive Owen). Now, they have a new mission retrieve their Commander and figure out the mystery behind the growing “Red Zone” in the center of Alpha station.
The best thing going for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the creatures; there are so many wonderful creatures reflected in just about every scene. There are these three odd information brokers called Doghan Daguis that Laureline has to call on a few times to help unlock the mystery of The Pearls and at one point to help her find a missing Valerian. After she finds him though, she ends up getting kidnapped by a group of human-fishers called the Boulan who don’t like foreigners. To enter the city gate, you have to be one of them, period. That’s where Rihanna makes her appearance, she is a glamopod called Bubble, essentially a hooker with a heart of gold that is actually a shape-shifting alien race. And, let’s face it, if you’re gonna shape shift, having Rihanna be your go-to shape makes sense.
Despite the lack of chemistry between Valerian and Laureline, which is criminally terrible given that they are the leads in a movie based on a comic called Valerian and Laureline, I was intrigued by the universe they live in. I think there is a potential to have more stories within their universe. I really can’t overstate how rich and vast the cinematography and effects were in Valerian. I have heard it compared to Avatar, and in fact, Besson was convinced after seeing Avatar that he could finally make this film that he has wanted to unleash to the world since he was 10 and discovered the comic in French magazine, Pilote.
Overall I wouldn’t say this movie sucked, but there was so much room for an incredible film with believable leads and a fascinating story. And to go back to Avatar, I was visually stunned by that film and left underwhelmed by the characters and the story. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had about the same impact. Also, the ending was predictable and unremarkable when you really think about it.