The Fifth Element director Luc Besson returns to the realm of sci-fi with an expansive, super-expensive adventure whose creativity overshadows its more uneven elements, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The movie is based off of “Valérian and Laureline,” a sexy French comic book series featuring a pair of futuristic crime fighters who travel through space to uphold the law. What could have been a movie full of new philosophies and themes ends up just being really pretty and having no substance.
In the 28th century, special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne) work together to maintain order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the minister of defense, the duo embark on a mission to Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture. When a force threatens the peaceful city, Valerian and Laureline must race against time to identify the menace that also jeopardizes the future of the universe.
Luc Besson has a wonderful visual style that captures the size and scope of this new world we’re being introduced to. He creates a fully realized universe in a matter of minutes in the beginning of the movie. It’s really the best part of the film, showing humans of all races coming together, thus expanding their world to include alien species and creating Alpha, the planet of a thousand worlds. It’s a beautiful scene. It’s inspiring, emotional and having the use of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” doesn’t hurt, it only adds to the gravitas that Besson is trying to convey in the scene: that humanity can be better if we choose to be.
Following that is the introduction of the beautiful planet Mui, with its wonderful inhabitants. They are an amazing special effect CGI alien: tall, slender, a brilliant pale blue with glittering skin. They’re very reminiscent of Avatars’ Na’vi, with their scantly clad outerwear and movements. The effects of these aliens are the best the movie provides: striking, strong and colorful. Their planet is breathtaking, leaving the viewers wanting more instead of the small amount given. Due to plot we don’t spend very much time with these aliens. But the little we do is breathtaking. Screw Pandora, this is the planet people should want to go to.
We meet our heroes on a mission to retrieve a one of kind species in a “flea market”. A planet that is reserved for the sheer purpose of shopping. But the catch is you enter into an out of phase dimension to shop and see what it looks like. So without wearing the equipment to see the shops it’s just a bunch of strange looking people standing around in a desert looking crazy. It’s an interesting idea and is played very creativity while Valerian and Laureline bounce in between the dimensions to complete their mission. It’s a great first action beat in the flick and will be remembered as a great science fiction moment and idea. It’s a shame that’s where they ideas stopped.
From then on the movie just becomes too long and boring. There are a few more action beats, some “witty” dialogue between the characters and Rihanna. Whose part is a complete waste of time for everyone. Valerian needs to find a disguise to infatuate an alien compound. So be must locate something to hide his humanness. So he finds a Rihanna a slave/stripper/prostitute named Bubble, who is own by Jolly The Pimp, cameo by Ethan Hawke making a lot of acting choices. This scene and the infiltration of the alien compound that follows is long and drawn out. It adds noting to the over all plot and bring us no close to the end. It’s one of the worst parts of the movie. And to have Rihanna in a movie as stage performer and not have her sing? It makes no sense. It’s not sophisticated in a movie trying so hard to be.
The two leads: Dane DeHaan and Care Delevingne are pretty much terrible from the beginning. They have no chemistry together. In fact, they are pretty torturous to watch. DeHaan is doing his best Keanu Reeves imitation, and really, is that a good choice? DeHaan doesn’t seem to know if he’s in an action movie or a comedy with sci-fi themes. He’s all over the map continually throughout the film. He is not the hero you want to follow.
But that’s nothing compared to Delevingne who is just awful. In pretty much everything she’s ever been in and here in no exception. I hate when people in Hollywood want all models to try a hand at acting. Some are just not good. She tries to be an independent woman who can kick ass and take names. Which she does in a few scenes, but a lot of her character is fending off Valerian’s massively rapey forcefulness towards her and trying to decide what she wants out of life. She tries to come off strong and in a time when we have seen strong women in film, she just doesn’t cut it.
As said: the visuals and effects are amazing. An Oscar nod for sure. But with a world so thought out it’s a shame nothing else was. We spend so much time with learning about the universe we’re spending time in, we end up not spending that much in it. There are some of the most creative alien species ever created for film and we just don’t get any of them except a few shots here and there.
As with other Besson projects he has a great use of sound and music. The soundtrack is wonderful and odd, with a great score by Alexandre Desplat adding so much to the splendid visuals. As does the use of famous songs from artist like David Bowie, Bob Marley and Wyclef Jean. They are an odd choice in a movie set way into the future, but they work. Certain artists’ music is timeless no matter when or where you hear them. They have a certain feel of nostalgia and comfort.
I personally expected more from Luc Besson. I am a huge admirer and fan, so to be let down again (Lucy was another disappointment) is just annoying. He can be so much better. There are some great moments in the movie, but they’re all in the first 20 minutes and it’s a long boring downward spiral from then on. The movie is stunningly visual and those visuals will get you though the lack of plot and story. But it’s not enough at the end of the day. Young people and fans of derivative things with no substance will love it. But as a fan of science fiction that should push boundaries, this just didn’t cut it. Over all it’s entertaining and lovely to look at, but that’s all.