Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

 

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Derivative, moi?

 
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Plastic paradise

 

Serious scholars of comic-strip culture will tell you that Pierre Christin's original sci-fi series (Valérian and Laureline) was an inspiration for Star Wars. Yeah, but George Lucas got there first. And he did alright with it. But give a filmmaker enough rope… David Lynch had his Dune, John Boorman his Zardoz and Darren Aronofsky his The Fountain. As a director, the Paris-born Luc Besson has brought us some stylish and nifty pearls of escapism (Nikita, Léon and Lucy). Here, he’s been given a budget of $200 million and the whole paintbox and he has just gone Jackson Pollock.

 

At its heart, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the perfect space opera for our times. It’s about diversity and the new order that seeks to suppress it. The eponymous city is a thriving, intergalactic metropolis for species from across the universe, whose status quo is threatened by the appearance of a new, peace-loving race. The latter resemble the Na'vi from Avatar, except that their skin is alabaster white. And we know that they’re good, not only because they’re tall and graceful, but because they’ve got washboard stomachs and pert bottoms. However, Besson’s arch reach and comic tone is a calamitous collision of Mel Brooks and Terry Gilliam for idiots. Visually, the director has opted for a garish comic palette, complete with multi-coloured clouds and cartoonish CGI.

 

Then there’s the problem with Major Valerian. Somehow, somewhere, an actor with the comic insouciance of Ryan Reynolds might have pulled off the character of the space cop, but Dane DeHaan is a disastrous stroke of miscasting. An indie actor with some intense, oddball titles to his credit, DeHaan is not leading man material. He’s just not. Here, he affects an odd basso profundo drone, like the class dweeb putting on a deep voice to compensate for his lack of stature. Better is his romantic interest, Laureline (Cara Delevingne, with an American accent), but their banter is hardly in the same cosmos as Gable and Lombard. They come off more like a pair of perky brats in a school playground.

 

Others in a respectable cast are given little to sink their teeth into, other than Rihanna, who’s given a provocative routine in which she morphs from Sally Bowles into Catwoman via a blonde showgirl, courtesy of the special effects department. The rest is a convoluted, cluttered shambles, with no reason for the viewer to care or to engage. No doubt Besson doesn’t expect us to take it at all seriously, certainly not when a Jabba the Hutt clone declares, “I will find you and I will kill you.”

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer, Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Mathieu Kassovitz, and the voices of John Goodman and Elizabeth Debicki.

 

Dir Luc Besson, Pro Luc Besson and Virginie Besson-Silla, Screenplay Luc Besson, Ph Thierry Arbogast, Pro Des Hugues Tissandier, Ed Julien Rey, Music Alexandre Desplat, Costumes Olivier Bériot.

 

EuropaCorp/Fundamental Films/BNP Paribas Fortis Film Finance/Universum Film/Gulf Film/River Road Entertainment/Belga Films-Lionsgate.

137 mins. France. 2017. Rel: 2 August 2017. Cert. 12A.