“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the kind of visual candy store that only the digital age could produce. Director Luc Besson creates wondrous creatures and settings, dropping viewers into a far-future adventure teeming with alien life.
If only he’d left out the humans.
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are supposed to be the heroes, an adorably bickering couple who go on important missions for a galactic federation. Instead, they both look and act like teenagers, more suited to an MTV reality show than the command center of a space station. Yet there they are, sucking all the charisma out of the room.
To be fair, it’s not the actors’ fault — they’ve been fine in other movies. Besson is just so invested in his wacky world-building, he routinely forgets about his central characters. They run (or fall) through dozens of odd environments, chasing the survivors of a planetary disaster whose secrets could topple the station’s military leader (Clive Owen). Occasionally, they pause long enough to recite Besson’s terrible dialogue before darting off to another action scene.
The film is adapted from the “Valerian and Laureline” comic book series, which ran for decades and influenced “Star Wars” and Besson’s own “The Fifth Element.” The director’s love for the source material is evident but hardly reverent, as he throws in references from different storylines and avoids any hint of a personal history for the leads. He can open with a montage covering hundreds of years of interstellar cooperation but can’t spend a minute explaining how Valerian and Laureline met or what they could possibly see in each other.
Most of the peripheral characters could anchor their own films, from the flamboyant, dimension-hopping tour guide (Eric Lampaert) to the tragic shapeshifter who helps Valerian (singer Rihanna, turning out to be a decent actress). The mind wanders easily in this universe, and it’s tempting to create backstories for the creatures that move around the margins. They’re the ones Besson is really interested in. Why shouldn’t the audience be, too?
Read more of freelancer Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.
‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language.
3-D or not 3-D?
This is exactly the kind of movie 3-D was made for. Expect to be impressed and overwhelmed.