Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a lot of fun here and there, but I couldn’t help being a smidge underwhelmed by the whole deal, having waited years for news of a new Besson space opera following his insta-classic The Fifth Element. There’s just… something missing in the magic here, an undercurrent that should be cohesively flowing through it that’s sort of absent, leaving it feeling very episodic and loose. It’s not the heavy CGI that bothered me either, as the effects here are some of the most flat out amazing and well done graphics I’ve ever seen, particularly in a prologue set on a shell beach style planet with avatar natives running about, a stunning way to open the picture. No, it’s something illusory that didn’t ring true, something that was there in Fifth Element and just didn’t make it to the meeting this time around. The story centres on space feds Valerian (Dane DeHaan, who I just can’t help but be annoyed by in anything I see him in) and Lauraline (Cara Delevigne), hunting through the universe for a treasured artifact from aforementioned shell beach planet, mainly focusing on a manufactured megastructure housing over eight hundred million different species, all clambering over each other in the craziest, most colourful celebration of special effects to come along in a while. Seriously, the wildly varied aliens, gorgeous vistas and chase sequences set in the City are really something to be proud of, and when the film is in action mode, it’s a delight. Story suffers a lot though, with Clive Owen awkwardly hamming his way through a military captain role, John Goodman playing Jabba The Hut, a vague genocide subplot involving the avatar dudes, it all happens dimly and is hard to get a grasp on from scene to scene. Also, the writing for Lauraline and Valerian’s suuuuccckkkks. It’s meant to be adorable, glib romantic back and forth, yet just feels clipped, unnatural and stale. DeHaan drones on with it, and doesn’t ever feel at home in the role unless he’s doing stunts that don’t involve dialogue. Delevigne fares better and seems to really be having fun with her role, stealing the show from under Valerian’s nose. The best acting work of the film, shockingly, comes briefly from Rihanna as a shapeshifter thing called Bubble with an affinity for dancing and a hopeless romantic’s heart. Ethan Hawke is also there as some kind of zany cowboy pimp, an energy that’s a far cry away from his usual stone-faced intensity. Watch for the quickest ever cameo from an under-utilized Rutger Hauer, so fleeting that if you’re even a minute late to the theatre you won’t have a clue he’s in it. I did enjoy lots with this one, including a romp through the dining hall of a gluttonous alien race that resemble Harry Potter trolls, a fantastic extended action set piece in a sprawling bazaar market that overlaps into multiple dimensions, providing clever shortcuts, escapes and pratfalls for all involved, and the rich detail in costume design as Valerian travels through Rihanna’s section of the City, not to mention top drawer special effects all about the film. It just didn’t have the heart or connective tissue to make all these elements stick or resonate though, like a shattered mirror whose pieces are off lost somewhere. I found myself wanting to pop in my Fifth Element DVD multiple times, for there the story provoked emotion and made you deeply care for it’s two intrepid protagonists and their romance, whereas here it just feels a bit lifeless and forced, with an overarching narrative that needed way, way more fleshing out to really work or go somewhere. Next time, Luc.

-Nate Hill

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