Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke
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Director Luc Besson follows 2014’s Lucy, a film which subscribes to the notion that humans only use 10 per cent of their brain power, with Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, a vibrant, head-sploding comic book confection that simply has to be seen to be believed. Besson’s adaptation of the French comic series Valerian and Laureline is very weird, but unfortunately not quite as wonderful.
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne play Valerian and Laureline, agents for the outer space police aboard Alpha, a space-travelling home to millions of aliens, living together in harmony. After Valerian has a disturbing vision of a peaceful, low-tech planet in jeopardy, a problem deep within the station becomes more pressing, and the agents go on a mission to recover their captured commander (Clive Owen) and uncover the conspiracy at the heart of Alpha.
The plot is much more complex and convoluted than that – there’s no questioning how ambitious this is. It may be based on a comic book, but Valerian still feels like a true original, Visually, it’s unmatched by anything else in live action for eye-catching imagination, from the outer space bazaar of Big Market to the titular intergalactic melting pot. It’s fun too, but sadly, it’s sunk by some truly misjudged decisions, and becomes repetitive over the course of its 137 minutes.
First things first – who the heck looked at DeHaan and thought he’d be a good Han Solo-type rascal? As Major Valerian, he’s the major casting misstep here, even more out of place than in his turn as Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. He brings the film down a whole notch more or less single-handedly, not least because of his anti-chemistry with Delevingne.
DeHaan can be great when he’s in the right role, but Hollywood’s attempts to capitalise upon his breakthrough turn as troubled teen Andrew in 2012’s Chronicle have fundamentally misunderstood his screen presence. Conversely, with a CV that includes Paper Towns and Suicide Squad, Laureline probably marks Cara Delevingne’s best work to date. She’s sharp, sardonic and, despite being demoted from the title, Besson is obviously invested in her arc over the course of the film.
The mismatch of these two actors who don’t go well together reflects the unpredictable visual mashups in the film’s palette, but everyone seems to be doing their own thing and these constant clashes quickly become irritating. For instance, Rihanna is surprisingly good as Bubble, a shape-shifting dancer, while Ethan Hawke is utterly dreadful as Jolly the Pimp, in the same plot detour. At the heart of it all, Owen is left snarling campily, while he waits for an obvious heel turn – it feels like he’s been away for a while and this is a bizarre comeback for him. We see early on that he has an army of robots, and this fact clearly has him itching to yell “Get Them!” at any moment, but such a stock antagonist feels at odds with the otherwise strikingly original alien culture that drives the story.
Valerian and The City Of A Thousand Planets more than lives up to its title in its jawdropping scope. There are glimmers in which everything somehow gels, as it did in Besson’s The Fifth Element, but this is candy-coloured fun with a rote story and barely a Star Wars prequel’s grasp of drama or suspense. And yet muddled it is, it’s still a must-see.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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