Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Year: 2017
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke 

Written by Fiona Underhill

Well, it’s difficult to know where to start with this one. I am a fan of the director – I loved ‘Leon’ and ‘The Fifth Element’ and I have managed to avoid his more poorly received offerings (I’m looking at you, ‘Lucy’). I haven’t read the comics that this film is based on, although they certainly sound intriguing. As for the actors involved – well I’ve only seen Cara Delevingne in a small part in Anna Karenina before this, so wasn’t really sure what to expect. I would be interested to see her play a British character in a role, as I don’t think she has yet (in any of her high-profile work). As for Dane DeHaan, well there will be more on him later. 

So I think I can sum ‘Valerian’ up by saying; The Visuals = Good Bonkers, The Plot = Bad Bonkers. Believe me, it’s all bonkers. The visuals and effects in this film are insanely rich, detailed and sumptuous – it is an absolute feast for the eyes. It is easy to see where the enormous budget was splurged in this film, but unfortunately, I don’t think there is a hope of it making much of a profit. I could make some comparisons between ‘Valerian’ and the Star Wars prequels, but having rewatched ‘The Phantom Menace’ recently (don’t ask me why), it is clear to see that CGI has moved on in leaps and bounds in the last 15 years or so. 

I don’t really know where to begin with the plot to this film. There is an alien world which relies on pearls to be reproduced by feeding one to an aardvark-like creature, who then ‘poops’ out hundreds more – yes, really. Their planet is destroyed and a small group of the aliens manage to make it to ‘The City of a Thousand Planets’ – an enormous expanding space station, in which nearly all known species of the universe are represented. They need to find the one surviving pearl-pooping creature to be able to establish a new world for their people. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) work for the government of the human population, as special operatives and they become embroiled in the plot to protect this unique alien creature and return it to the ‘right’ hands. 

Unfortunately, the dialogue in this film leaves much to be desired. The opening sequence features a fairly excruciating scene in which Valerian and Laureline TELL the audience everything they might need to know about their characters through clunky exposition. However, I can see why – if we didn’t have the characters telling us that Dane DeHaan is a ‘ladykiller’, it may be be difficult to work this out for ourselves. Dane DeHaan appears in two films this year, in which he is the romantic lead – to Cara Delevingne (the supermodel) and to Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander (in ‘Tulip Fever’ – out later this year). And I’m sorry, I just ain’t buying it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him in ‘Chronicle’. But I do  wonder who has decided he has big-budget, mainstream leading man status. 

Back to the positives – how this film looks. As well as the CGI, the costumes are also incredible. There is an awesome sequence featuring Rihanna as a nightclub entertainer, who can change her appearance at will. Surprisingly, Ethan Hawke features – in a flamboyant performance – as the nightclub owner. Luckily, this part comes in the second half, when things are starting to flag in this overlong film. As well as Delevingne, there is more British acting talent involved – Clive Owen as the Commander and Sam Spruell as the General of the military outfit Valerian and Laureline work for. I do feel slightly sorry for middle-aged men with British teeth getting close-ups in super high definition these days. I couldn’t take my eyes off a blackhead on Owen’s top lip during his scenes, which may say something about how the mind wanders during films which are at least 30 minutes too long. 

Well – ‘Valerian’ is probably going to be looked back on as a giant turkey, which isn’t entirely fair. Of course, it is garishly multi-coloured bobbins on an insanely huge scale. It is, mostly, entertaining and the visual feast is almost worth your time and money. I just wish a more charming leading man (it isn’t often you’re praying for an Efron) could have been found to helm the madness and to give you someone to root for. However, if you’re looking for a 3D spectacular – this is it. Just a shame that it came out on the same weekend as ‘Dunkirk’, a visual feast of a very different type, but still something that has harmed ‘Valerian’, I think. I hope this doesn’t end up being some sort of death-knell for Luc Besson’s career, but at the same time wonder how on earth he managed to raise such a big budget for this level of craziness. Perhaps he should go back to something on the scale of ‘Leon’ next time. THAT I would like to see.

Fiona’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

 

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