Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, John Goodman, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu
Runtime: 2 hrs 17 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/ValerianMovie/
Opening Day: 20 July 2017
Synopsis: Visionary writer/director Luc Besson helms this contemporary, unique and epic science-fiction saga that will take you through an extraordinary world. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special operatives for the government of the human territories charged with maintaining order throughout the universe. Under directive from their Commander (Clive Owen), Valerian and Laureline embark on a mission to the breathtaking intergalactic city of Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis comprised of thousands of different species from all four corners of the universe. Alpha’s seventeen million inhabitants have converged over time -- uniting their talents, technology and resources for the betterment of all. Unfortunately, not everyone on Alpha shares in these same objectives; in fact, unseen forces are at work, placing our race in great danger.
Luc Besson's latest bombastic USD200 million sci-fi outing reinforces how, as a founding member of the Cinéma du look movement,he is a master of visuals. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is so visually rich and full of grandeur, it gives you the sense that you are really in space or another dimension altogether (perhaps from being high on this visual spectacle).
Besson succeeds in besting himself (ala his other space adventure flick, The Fifth Element) and pushes our senses to the extreme in his creation of a unique alien universe. One of the best visual treats that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has to offer includesthe vast city of Alpha (the titular City). Practically a wonderland in outer space, Alpha is home to over hundreds different species (hence making it a city of a thousand planets). Another showcase of Besson’s visual storytelling prowess is the ingeniously succinct opening that details the accidental decimation of beach-dwelling aliens known as the Pearls. With little dialogue, Besson makes us grow emotionally attached to them in less than five minutes and you feel for them as you witness them watching doom approach them and their peaceful lives shattered through no fault of theirs. Ironically, the characters with more lines are the ones you feel less for and whose lack of chemistry makes you wonder why Besson thinks we would buy that they have deep relationships with each other to the point that they are willing to die for each other.
Like Besson’s other sci-fi blockbuster, The Fifth Element, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, overloads you visually with the use of tight editing and framing as you follow the action. An early adventure in the film is a showcase of the best this film has to offer. The camera cuts rapidly between the female lead, Laureline (portrayed by British model Cara Delevigne) and the male lead, Valerian (portrayed by Dane DeHaan) as Valerian crosses dimensions, dodging gangsters and weapons while Laureline walks calmly near him.
While visually exciting and thrilling, the downside of so much going on visually is that you sometimes get distracted by other things happening rather than the main plotline. Before you can fully comprehend and appreciate what you see before you, you are propelled into another scenario and cliffhanger with no clear idea of where you or the leads are heading. The film’s episodic nature adds to that as it meanders and ventures into digressions simply to show off more of the manifestation of Besson’s imagination put to film. An example being when Laureline spends one part of the film searching for a lost Valerian who, in turn, returns the favour of rescuing Laureline just shortly after being rescued by her (yes, the film can get as convoluted as this sentence was).
Just as Besson’s strength in visual storytelling comes forth strongly in this film, his weakness in the non-visual aspects come true just as strongly in how disappointing his leads and their dialogue are. DeHaan’s Valerian is more gawky kidult than gruff He-Man with his voice being his most masculine feature unfortunately. Valerian comes across as a Han Solo poser, too scrawny and child-like to be taken seriously as a swashbuckling dashing space major. His tendency to deliver one-liners would work with a more magnetic and cool actor but in the hands of DeHaan, it comes across as a Keanu Reeves impression (and not a very good one either).
Delevigne’s Laureline is better than DeHaan’s Valerian, partly because she gets the more sensible (although still cheesy) lines. While she is generally left in situations where her expressions are mostly those of disapproval, irritation and boredom as she listens to Valerian’s stilted declarations of love, there are a few moments where she gets to show a different side of Laureline in those moments where Laureline lets her guard down and express her true affections towards Valerian. It is those moments that marks the difference between Delevigne’s and DeHaan’s performances (for some reason, you can feel Laureline’s anxiety in rescuing a lost Valerian while you feel Valerian is more returning the favour than truly anxious about Laureline when she gets kidnapped).
The weakness of DeHaan’s performance and the lack of chemistry between them make moving away from them, such as when we encounter Rihanna’s shape shifting character, a welcome relief. It is a terrible thing when your titular lead robs from the story and the visual beauty of the film and any moment away from hearing him utter stilted dialogue makes the film a lot more enjoyable.
(Go in knowing that you will be blown away by the visuals, but don’t expect much from the predictable plot and dialogue)
Review by Katrina Tee