Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke
Luc Besson’s been somewhat of a mixed bag in recent years. The man who gave us The Fifth Element, Nikita and Léon has been finding it difficult to get back into his stride with films like The Family and most recently Lucy turning out to be disappointing. Would things improve for the French director with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (I’m just going to call it Valerian from now on since that title is ridiculously long)? Well, his latest movie is by no means as annoying as Lucy or as worthless as The Family, it never gets close to hitting the highs of The Fifth Element.
Valerian follows the story of the space policemen/woman duo Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who find themselves entangled in a strange mystery when they head back after a rather dangerous mission to the International Space Station known as Alpha, which is full of weird and wonderful alien life from across the galaxy. When they eventually arrive on Alpha, Valerian and Laureline have to work out what’s causing a vast radioactive field at the heart of the space station.
Bring on the beach!
Much like Besson’s The Fifth Element, the French director has created a truly remarkable spectacle and Valerian is full of strange and beautiful alien creatures and worlds. The planet of Mül and its blue inhabitants are the film’s highlights, however the film is full of other unique creations, such what’s referred to as the Mül converter, which is a kind of an adorably tiny elephant/cat that poops pearls. I’m pretty sure this will on top of many children’s Christmas wish lists.
Visually Valerian is an impressive achievement, especially given the fact that it’s basically an independent movie, albeit one of the most expensive ever made. But sadly, unlike The Fifth Element, there’s nothing particularily engrossing about the film’s plot or its titular character. Valerian is a vapid individual, barely brought to life by DeHaan’s lifeless and unbearably monotone performance. He sounds more like a stoned Californian surfer than a cool space policeman.
There’s also a strange tendency to have a character explain what everything is in Valerian. There are multiple instances where you see a specular looking alien species on-screen and the script will have one of the film’s characters explain who the aliens are and what they do. There’s absolutely no need for this and the poor dialogue detracts from the film’s arresting visuals. Besson has clearly not heard the phrase, “show, don’t tell.”
Yeah, we’re a team.
The film’s dialogue is one of the film’s real weak points. It’s flat, overly cheesy, constantly jarring and takes you out of the film completely. DeHaan’s Valerian had me cringing uncomfortably on far too many occasions. His incessant marriage proposals are a prime example of this. I know it sounds odd to say given that this is a science-fiction film, but Valerian is just not a believable protagonist and a thoroughly uninteresting lead character.
The film also features a cameo from Rihanna, and after her performance in this movie, she should start contemplating about whether acting is really for her. Simply put, she’s awful, and her five minute pole dancing scene should be put in cinema’s dustbin along with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze and Nicolas Cage’s performance in the terrible remake of The Wicker Man. Let the bees have their wicked way with these on-screen atrocities.
That said, Cara Delevingne’s Laureline is far more captivating. She’s a strong, witty, intelligent and captivating female lead and I wanted to see more of her than of her male counterpart, Valerian. Delevingne’s performance demonstrates that she’s got talent and confirms that her laughable turn in Suicide Squad was more down to poor directing rather than her lack of acting ability. Unfortunately, she spends far too much time trying to save Valerian than actually getting to strut her stuff.
It’s our mission that doesn’t make sense, sir.
Talking of saving people, Valerian and Laureline spend most of this movie saving one another. It almost seems as if once they reunite, they get pulled apart again, which just means that the film’s main plot never has any real time to develop. This goes to show how threadbare the actual plot is. It’s all set up as if there’s some sort of big mystery to be solved, but from the minute you meet a certain actor, you immediately know who’s behind everything, which just makes the whole experience feel pointless.[SPOILERS – the character in question is Clive Owen’s Commander Filitt, but seriously, it’s not a spoiler since it’s all so obvious. There’s even a point where they try to hide his face so that they can carry on the ‘mystery’, even though everyone watching knows exactly who the shadowed face belongs to.]
There are things to like about Valerian: the stunning visuals, the beautifully imaginative aliens, Cara Delevingne’s performance, watching Clive Owen chew scenery, yet unfortunately, like most of his recent work, Besson’s film left me with a distinct sense of disappointment. He shows flairs of his previous brilliance but never quite manages to recapture what made his earlier work so unique. Who knows, given time this may very well end up being a cult classic, but as it stands, Valerian is little more than a honourable failure. I’m sure it’ll have its fans, and that’s great, but I can’t say that I’m one of them.