Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian movie

* 1/2

Luc Besson’s epic folly Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a work of unbridled “creativity” that left me agog—and not happily—at its high-concept silliness performed with all the energy of rigor mortis by two sullen, miscast stars without clue what kind of picture is going on around them while Besson succeeds in outdoing his The Fifth Element in the spaced-out opera department. I wanted out of this picture after ten of its interminable 137 minutes.

Credit where due, this is not a crass commercial blockbuster but a crass creative romp, and one that its director has painstakingly mounted based on the popular, French graphic novels, which one has to believe are eons more clever than what’s onscreen here, and likely with more lifelike characters.

I’ll try to explain the “story” to you, but don’t hold me to it. Flashing forward to the 28th Century, the movie opens with a pair of would-be paramours and agent partners, apparently in charge of keeping the universe in line.

Major Valerian, a terribly miscast Dane DeHaan looking like Leonardo DiCaprio’s gangly kid brother and sounding as if he’s been dubbed by Keanu Reeves, and Sergeant Laureline, played by model Cara Delevingne, who has no business in movies and whose flat affect removes any sense of play or spontaneity from her bored performance. Both pose and toss insults, roll their eyes and otherwise push aggressive postures that are a real turn-off.

Their emptiness leaves Besson in a narrative quandary and us with nothing to care about, so what the director does is accelerate the wackiness (think Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element on steroids). Also caught up in this mess is Clive Owen as a kidnapped commander being held by a persecuted society of aliens.

In the middle of this is a floating city named Alpha, where intergalactic relations between planets take place, allowing Besson to go nuts in the cuddly, plushy creature species department with a novel use of CGI to create all manner of Star Wars cantina-esque dwellers. Kenner of the 80s would have had a field day in the merchandising.

On and on it goes until pop star Rihanna shows up as a sort of shapeshifting chanteuse, or prostitute, or something, assuring us that she can “recite all the works of Shakespeare” while working for a wily pimp played by Ethan Hawke. Surprisingly, she is the only bright spot in the picture and gives it a lift with a music video number where she changes outfits every half a second. Her line readings may be stilted, but she’s warmer and brighter than either of the vacuous leads.

And why not, in a movie that equates a B-grade, Avatar-lite tribe of tropical do-gooders (sort of like a Cosmic Greenpeace who bring energy and beauty to the world via the pearls they extract from the orifice of a pet creature that would do Sid & Marty Croft proud) to Jews being persecuted in the Holocaust. There’s even a mention of how “six million” were lost at the hands of evil humans.

I appreciate Besson as much as the next, and even revered his recent and visionary Lucy (ditto Subway, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element and The Professional, all of which deployed his talents in service of much better movies.

But Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, with its endless CGI-scapes, liberal lifts from better movies, anemic performances and bizarre cameos (Ethan Hawke, I mean you), is hard stuff to swallow. By the time it concludes with a would-be romantic coda, it’s dead on arrival.

DeHaan, who was once good in a craft little sci-fi movie named Chronicle and better than good in The Place Beyond the Pines, has delivered his second miscalculation this year following shaky work in Gore Verbinski’s bloated bomb A Cure for Wellness. Here, he simply cannot project the requisite Han Solo cockiness for the role and everything that comes out of his mouth sounds stilted and artificial.

Like the movie.

Leave a Comment