Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Luc Besson (screenplay); Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières (comic book)
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Luc Besson wooed me early in life with “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional.” Sure, there have been some bumps since the early 1990’s, but he’s also written and directed one of my all-time favorites, “The Fifth Element.” So although Cara Delevingne shares the spotlight in this flick, and her acting is terribly overrated and wooden, I’m hoping the storyline carries this far beyond my low expectations of amazing cinematography.
Violence/Scary Images: There is an annihilation of a species by war, and a tragic death. Our main characters are elite soldiers who use any means necessary to carry out orders, so violence should be expected.
Language/Crude Humor: H*** is used a couple of times. S*** was used once.
Spiritual Content: Nada.
Sexual Content: Laureline spends half of the film in bikini tops, but they are not distasteful. There is a bit of kissing and innuendo. Early on, it’s revealed Valerian is a bit of a boy toy and keeps a list of his conquests. And if you’re looking for a full pole dancing routine, this is your flick.
Drug/Alcohol References: There’s an alien bar called “Korbin’s,” and it’s assumed the alien shown is drinking.
Positive Content: For any Luc Besson fan, there are a couple of Easter eggs in the movie from some of his previous films. And along that line, the ending theme of love conquering all.
I didn’t know much about the comic book version of Valerian, but I was excited to see the first trailer for this film. The director, Luc Besson, doesn’t play by the sci-fi director/storyteller rules. He also dabbles in television and completely different genres. Like Babe Ruth, his missteps are as often as his hits. And, when he gets it right, it’s worth the wait. But this was not that film.
The first several minutes of the film have no dialogue, but never-ending shots of the international space station as it grows through the years and jettisons to space. Cue my happiness when Rutger Hauer gets a minute of screen time! I fully expected to jump into the plot; however, all you get are more lengthy scenes from the alien planet of Mul, where everything is pale, beautiful, and peaceful. This ends when their atmosphere is breached by black, falling debris. However, it seems to take forever to get the plot rolling past the white sands and ethereal creatures. Jolted forward, the film finally introduces the heroes, Valerian and Laureline, killing time while enroute to an assignment.
After our heroes make their predicable slim escape, after gun fights and things going terribly wrong, the plot clomps along with a wooden villain (Clive Owen) and cutesy sidekicks. If you have seen the trailer to this movie, you will guess the plot within the first fifteen minutes, right down to the ending and certain betrayal/gunfight. Luc Besson takes a page from “The Fifth Element” for the final decisions by Valerian and Laureline—that love is bigger than everything. However, coming from two flirty soldiers, it fell as short as the rest of the film.
For all of the parts he’s had, Dane DeHaan is a relative newcomer to the big screen. His portrayal as the womanizing elite soldier Valerian was terrific, though his comic book counterpart was older. Cara Delevingne filled her role of Laurline about half of the film, usually when she was resisting Valerian’s charms. I didn’t buy much of her soldier parts. Clive Owen’s predictable commander just occupied space in the film. I truly felt bad for Rihanna, the morphing alien pole-dancer. I wanted to see more of her character, other than the exploitation of her body. The dark horse of this film, for me, was Ethan Hawke’s small bit as a pimp. There was something ironic and hilarious about the actor from “The Dead Poets Society” rocking a nose ring.
Besson relies heavily on CGI for this film. Unlike “The Fifth Element,” many of the aliens are CGI. The main race from the planet Mul (Mulans?) resembles the residents of Pandora, with white skin. Even Rihanna’s character, Bubble, spends most of her time in CGI form—which was sad because I actually liked her role. But there is a trio of characters who steal all of their scenes with their shared speech and humor. There are a few space battles, and the last one was so long I literally whispered, “Will this ever end?” That said, the CGI rendering is amazing, even if it detracts from the plot.
The soundtrack was odd to say the least. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was included, and there was a smidge of “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees and a tiny bit of Bob Marley. Most of the soundtrack was scored by Alexandre Desplat. It wasn’t memorable or monumental, but erred on the side of typical. As the credits rolled, Cara Delevingne belted out “I Feel Everything.” Personally, I would’ve liked to hear something from Rihanna.
I had low expectations and, unfortunately, they didn’t get much higher. Sure there were funny bits, but I didn’t go expecting to see a paler version of “Avatar.” It was all-around predictable and poorly acted. Too much CGI and not enough plot. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a long-titled film and the engine that couldn’t. It’s decent enough to rent at home once: That way, you won’t feel bad if you want to turn it off to finish the laundry.
The Bottom Line