Movies like the high gloss crime thriller “La Femme Nikita,” the assassin mentor flick “Léon: The Professional” and outré sci fi opera “The Fifth Element” have come to define director Luc Besson’s outrageous style. Kinetic blasts of energy, his films are turbo charged fantasies that make eyeballs dance even if they don’t always engage the brain. His latest, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” not only has one of the longest titles of the year but is also one of the most over-the-top, retina-frying movies of the year. Your eyes will beg for mercy.
Based on the French comic book “Valérian and Laureline,” a series that ignited the young Besson’s imagination, it stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as 28th century dimension-jumping space police and lovers Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline. When they aren’t cooing over one another the duo preserve law and order in the universe’s human territories.
Their biggest mission ever comes when the Minister of Defense (jazz star Herbie Hancock) dispatches them to save Alpha, an ever-growing space station nicknamed, “the City of a Thousand Planets.” Led by Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen) it is one of the most diverse places in the universe, a peaceful melting pot, home to 30 million inhabitants and thousands of species, who live in harmony, content to share culture and knowledge. Trouble is, sinister forces are afoot.
There’s more, like the Besson-ian touch of a wild red light district called Paradise Alley, an exploding planet, a shape-shifting burlesque performer played by Rihanna and a creature that that poops pearls, but the draw here are the eyeball-spinning visuals, not the story.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undeniably great looking, but Besson is a stylist above all, but it feels as though it is composed of influences from dozens of other better movies. It’s less than the sum of its parts. “Avatar” + “Tron” + “Dune” + “Star Wars” = “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”
There are characters who look so much like the Na’vi you’ll think James Cameron delivered his long promised “Avatar” sequel years early, plus ectoplasm shooting guns, Lucas look-a-like creatures and Jessica Rabbit even makes an appearance. Laureline also drops one of the most famous space opera lines ever, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” without a trace of irony. Cowabunga! The movie brings with it a disconcerting feeling of déjà vu, made doubly strange because you’ve never seen anything quite like it before.
It’s all spectacle and the leads get lost somewhere between the art direction and the artless storytelling. DeHaan plays Valerian as a Han Solo type, cocky and quick with a line but his laid-back, off kilter demeanour—so appealing in films like “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Life”—gets lost amid the noise.
Delevingne, the Meryl Streep of eye roll acting, delivers a speech about love being more powerful than any army that is destined to become a YouTube camp classic. A psychic jellyfish sequence recalls one of Delevingne’s high fashion modelling jobs come to life, is beautiful but deeply odd.
Both leads look like they reek of Redbull and herbal cigarettes and provide the film’s most interesting juxtaposition between the flamboyant art design and their blasé performances.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” has some trippy space-time continuum stuff but otherwise it’s jammed with the hoariest of clichés, like a ticking clock counting down to doom and an ending right out of “Colombo” complete with flashbacks. There is a sense of fun about some of the creatures—and a wild allusion to eating live monkey brains—but oddly the movie isn’t much fun.