I imagine writer-director Luc Besson envisioned Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets as the glorious offspring of Avatar and his own The Fifth Element, but something awful happened on the way to the final cut. The finished product is a hideous, overblown mess of cartoony cheesiness that may well be the offspring of something, but whatever it is, it was born prematurely and then dropped on its head.
Being entirely unfamiliar with the Valérian et Laureline comics on which it’s based, I won’t pretend to compare the two, but if the source material is even a little bit close to the movie adaptation, it belongs more on the funny pages of the Sunday paper than in the hall of fame of vaunted sci-fi comics (where it apparently resides).
I’ve said for almost a decade that Luc Besson should have quit while he was ahead, probably after the aforementioned The Fifth Element in 1997. In recent years his name’s been on dreck like Colombiana and The Family and absolute garbage like From Paris with Love and Lucy, and he does nothing to redeem himself here. I’ll admit that he can produce snazzy visuals like no one else, but eye candy only gets you so far; without at least a halfway-coherent script and a cast that can, oh I don’t know, act, we’re left with nothing but an empty shell of a movie and a far-away inkling of what might have been.
Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness) and Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns) star as the comics’ titular pair, a couple of law enforcement agents in the 28th century. The universe has been colonized, and three million people are living on a massive floating space station. Thirty years after the far-away planet Mül became collateral damage during a space war just outside its orbit, Valerian has a vision of the planet and its inhabitants, a kind and gentle Na’vi-like race. During a mission to retrieve some stolen property, he runs into a couple Mül-folk and ends up stealing some of the stolen property for himself, because he remembers it from his vision.
There’s plenty more where that came from, including some weird little dragon-gerbils that secrete multiple copies of whatever they ingest, Laureline sticking her head entirely inside a space-jellyfish to help track the missing Valerian, and Valerian himself ducking into a brothel run by Ethan Hawke, with Rihanna as his star performer. (Actually, that last bit may be the only truly entertaining ten minutes of the entire two-hour-plus movie.)
From start to finish, the film seems like it has its heart in the right place; you can honestly tell Besson viewed it as a labor of love, but he should have put as much time into the script and the characters as he did on the visual effects. Unfortunately his dialogue is so clunky that it may very well have you wondering if he was dropped on his head, and neither DeHaan nor Delevingne can act their way out of a paper bag. Delevingne tries her darndest to make smirking an art form, and DeHaan’s pseudo-attempt at being more than just a chauvinistic space-bro fails miserably.
If it’s possible to simply watch Valerian (without listening), you might be onto something. Pop on the 3D specs, and just enjoy the view; it’s quite a ride. The only problem is that you can’t hit “mute” in a movie theater.
Worth the 3D glasses?
The 3D may be the only redeeming part of the whole experience, but there’s a lot of it. And I mean a lot. And some of the super-swoopy space-chase sequences might actually be too much in 3D. If you have to see the film, I’d recommend dropping the extra few bucks to upgrade…but that’s only it you have to see it.