French filmmaker Luc Besson returns after a three-year hiatus from 2014’s abysmal Lucy, with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The film stars Dane DeHaan as the title character, Valerian, who is a super governmental spy along with his partner and possible lover, Lauerline (Cara Delevingne). They are assigned to retrieve an ancient artifact of an almost extinct civilization, that will restore the civilization from the planet Mul to its greatness, once again. A balance will return to the galaxy, so to speak.
There is a great deal to like about Valerian, aesthetically. This is one gorgeous looking film. A lot of imagination has been put into the look of “Valerian” but there is a lot that has been borrowed from countless other fantasy films, here as well. Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Blade Runner, Total Recall and even some of Besson’s own Fifth Element has been poured, stuffed and crammed into this almost two and a half hour film. It is pleasing to look at, to be sure, but the story is a tired retread of countless other sci-fi, fantasy films. There is nothing that happens, here that you have not seen done better in other films. It is not to say you won’t enjoy seeing what happens, but the meat of this story is bogged down by several elements.
First off, Dane DeHaan is miscast as Valerian. He is a decent actor but he does not have the charisma to carry a film like this. He was perfect for Gore Verbinsky’s A Cure for Wellness, earlier this year, a slightly off-beat film with a slightly off-beat character played well by Mr. DeHaan. As much as people complain about how Keanu Reeves talks and how it hurts our ability to take him seriously. He has nothing on Dane DeHaan who sounds as if he just came off of a beach from surfing. Mr. DeHaan’s persona and speech patterns worked well for A Cure for Wellness, but not so much in “Valerian” It is just too much to take him seriously as a bad-ass government agent.Cara Delevingne actually has more energy and personality that Mr. DeHaan however, the two of them as a couple, which is one of the elements that is a major part of the film, did not hold much interest, for me. They simply have very little chemistry.
Secondly, I was able to spot the main bad guy in pretty short time. Luc Besson’s script (based on the French graphic novel “Valerian and Laureline” by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres) seems to be more interested in telling a visual story instead of well-written one that depends on interesting characters. It is not to say this film has its moments and there is an energy behind the material that is undeniably fun. But the fun is fleeting because the two leads simply cannot carry a film this weighted down with visual effects. They seem to get lost.
The supporting cast is admirable. Clive Owen is the disgruntled Commander Arun Filitt. Ethan Hawke is almost unrecognizable (to me, anyway) as Jolly the Pimp and Rianna is alluring as Bubble, one of his shapeshifting girls. This film even has Herbie Hancock (yes, THAT Herbie Hancock) as Defence Minister who is barking orders through a computer screen. Sam Spruell (last seen in last year’s Legend with Tom Hardy) is quite effective as General Okto-Bar who uncovers the conspiracy that springs our heroes into action.
Disappointing though is that long time partner in the film scoring department, Eric Serra was not called on to score “Valerian”. Alexandre Desplat has the honors, here and it is not a bad score, but this is the kind of film Eric Serra has fun with as a composer and combines all sorts of different elements to create a rather invigorating score. Just listen to The Fifth Element score and you will hear what I am talking about. This is not a slap against Mr. Desplat’s score. It is a fine score, but more conventional and the look of this film is anything but conventional.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a long film, too. Too long. It does not need to be 141 minutes. I saw this film with my wife in 3D and if you must see this film, I recommend seeing it in 3D. It is stunning to look at, but after a while, you will more than likely start looking at your watch. The material is just not compelling enough to keep you glued to the screen. This is a ten times better film than Lucy, which was atrocious, but Luc Besson seems to be a better director than the writer on this one and it shows. This is a lush and beautifully shot film but ultimately a bit on the empty side. Predictable, with two leads and very little chemistry between them, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – **3/4 out of 5
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Rated PG-13 for language, native nudity, violence and adult situations
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets run time is 141 minutes.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is now playing in theaters. Please check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.