Action Adaptation

'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets' Film Review: Dazzling visuals more than make up for lackluster performances

July 21, 2017Ben Mk



   
This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Fifth Element, a cult classic that still stands as one of Luc Besson's most laudable achievements, and the one moviegoers are most likely to cite when praising his creativity as a filmmaker. Now, the writer/director is back with another big, bold and wildly imaginative sci-fi spectacle. This time, it's an adaptation of "Valérian and Laureline," a French comic book series first published 50 years ago, notable for its far-reaching influence on the sci-fi genre.

In this film version, Dane DeHaan plays Major Valerian, the by-the-book half of the comics' titular duo. Starring alongside Cara Delevingne as Valerian's more compassionate, hot-tempered female counterpart, Sergeant Laureline, DeHaan dons a powered spacesuit and pilots a spaceship called The Intruder to Alpha, the galaxy's largest space station, otherwise known as The City of a Thousand Planets. But when Valerian finds himself in a tough spot, he calls upon Laureline, who's every bit the quick-thinker and brave warrior that he is, and then some.

Plot-wise, the movie requires substantially more effort to decipher than the relatively simple dynamic between its two leads, but the gist of it has Valerian and Laureline investigating an ominous threat at the center of Alpha. In the process, however, they find themselves embroiled in a mystery wrapped in a government conspiracy — one that involves a planet long destroyed, the attempted genocide of an alien species, tiny pearls that contain 20 megatons of energy apiece, and the last of a race of cute, little creatures capable of replicating any type of matter in the cosmos.

Visually, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a masterpiece teeming with some of the most stunning extraterrestrial depictions this side of Star Wars, the most impressive of which is the prologue involving slender humanoids vaguely resembling Avatar's Na'vi, as well as a thrilling chase sequence on a desert planet where tourists go to wander a marketplace from another dimension. Amid all the spectacle, though, Besson attempts to anchor the story in the quasi-romance between the film's two heroes, with much less satisfying results.

It's not that DeHaan's portrayal is altogether inadequate. But if we're to compare Valerian with The Fifth Element, he's no Bruce Willis. Far too deadpan and not nearly as charismatic as he thinks he is, DeHaan is routinely upstaged by Delevingne, who appears to be having a bit more fun with her role. Likewise, the both of them are, in turn, overshadowed by pop star Rihanna, who plays a shapeshifting cabaret dancer named Bubbles, and who makes more of an impact with her brief part than either DeHaan or Delevingne do for the span of the entire feature.

It all adds up to a somewhat divisive moviegoing experience. But while Valerian is no doubt flawed, Besson and company certainly present a strong case for why the film deserves an audience, populating it with everything from mind-reading space jellyfish to killer robots, cameos from Rutger Hauer and Ethan Hawke, and enough oddball theatrics to more than compensate for any shortcomings in the performances. Make no mistake, The Fifth Element still reigns supreme as Besson's sci-fi pièce de résistance, but Valerian drops out of hyperspace a close second.


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets releases July 21st, 2017 from Entertainment One. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 17 Mins.








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