Wednesday 9 August 2017

Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Luc Besson proves kinetic visuals and a vivid imagination are no substitute for a watertight script and a cast with charisma in his new movie Valerian

An intergalactic metropolis called Alpha is under threat from a dark and mysterious force, so two special operatives ­– Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) – are dispatched to root out the evil and safeguard the thousands of alien species which call the station home.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is something of a pet project for French filmmaker Luc Besson; having grown up reading Pierre Christin’s original comics and with his previous work on films such as The Fifth Element in turn drawing heavily from said comics, one could say this adaptation is the culmination of an entire career of filmmaking. 

It is undoubtedly an audacious undertaking; Valerian is both the most expensive French film ever financed and one of the most ambitious sci-fi films this side of James Cameron’s Avatar, with over 2700 visual effects shots finding their way into the final product. However, all this flashiness can only stretch so far because Valerian is unfortunately a narrative dud that fails to engage on every level beneath the surface.

Its biggest flaw is unquestionably the script; peppered with bursts of playful banter, you get the sense that Besson is aiming for a hip and sexy Han and Leia vibe from his two youthful leads. Ultimately, this doesn’t transpire as DeHaan and Delevingne share about as much chemistry as a pair of discarded planks of wood. Frigid, lacking in spark and afforded only a handful of generic action one-liners to work with, I’m scratching my head to think of another film in recent memory that was woefully miscast as Valerian.

Don’t get me wrong, DeHaan has done good work in the past, but when I think of a roughish special forces ladies man in space, he wouldn’t even rate in my top 20 casting choices. The same can be said of Delevingne, who as usual lets her (admittedly on fleek) eyebrows do 80% of the work. The worst part is, every line is delivered in the same monotone and morose manner; one can only assume that every note given on set was something along the lines of “emote less” or “again but this time try to look more bored”.

Alas, Valerian is just one of those perplexing films that has an enormous amount of imagination but no cohesive vision (see also: Jupiter Ascending). It feels like the entire plot was just pulled from a hat filled with random words – at one point, Laureline has to pay a pirate to steal a psychic jellyfish from the blowhole of a giant whale so she can wear it like a hat and see through time and space.

There are flashes of brilliance – an early interdimensional heist sequence is fun and Ethan Hawke plays a neon-soaked brigand who owns a nightclub that plays the Bee Gees even though it’s 1000 years in the future – but all its wins are counteracted by a dozen equally notable failings.

The meandering plot spins its wheels for an entire 45 minutes during the second act, the villain is immediately obvious to anyone who has ever seen a film in their life and the 3D is murky and dizzying. 

The Verdict: 3.5/10

Essentially you can count the good stuff in Valerian on one hand and one of them is a little pearl-pooping Pokemon that spends 90% of the film in Delevingne’s fanny pack. Definitely one to avoid, even for sci-fi diehards.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is in cinemas across Australia from tomorrow Thursday August 10. 

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