Monday, July 24, 2017

Valerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets Movie Review: Gorgeous Visuals But Bad Storytelling With Miscast Lead Stars


 LUC BESSON is a French filmmaker noted for such hard hitting action flicks as “Leon: The Professional”, “Le Femme Nikita”, “Lucy”, “Colombiana”, “Taken” and “The Transporter”, for which he is credited either as writer, producer or director. He now helms the futuristic space saga, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”, based on the popular sci-fi French comics series, “Valerian and Laureline”, here played by Dane DeHaan (whose speaking voice resembles that of Keanu Reeves) and Cara Delevingne.

This is not Besson’s first foray into a futuristic sci-fi material as he has done that before in “The Fifth Element” starring Bruce Willis and which introduced Milla Jovovich, who’d later be Besson’s wife and star of the “Resident Evil” franchise. No doubt he has made “Valerian” a gorgeous visual feast. The production design is dazzling and spectacular, starting from the opening montage sequence showing different space ships docking in together with people from various countries meeting each other and doing a handshake. This spans many many years, extending to centuries, with the participants involving humans and aliens from different planets, set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.


The movie then focuses on tall, slender purple-gray aliens living on a beautiful pristine beach with giant conch seashells on the blue water as their home, and with many suns or planets in the horizon. We see a leggy female waking up and washing her face with a bowl of pearls. We then see her and her family of aliens invaded by other aliens that destroy their planet, with the leggy female alien tragically losing her life in the catastrophe.

We don’t really know much about them and then, they’re suddenly forgotten, only to return towards the end to explain what happened to them. The movie then focuses on Valerian and Laureline, special interstellar operatives working with the federation of humans sent to look for the missing Commander Arun (Clive Owen), who one immediately suspects as a villainous type with his own nefarious agenda.

We then see them engaged in various action set pieces, with Valerian using a blaster gun that is stuck in another dimension which he gets to see using a special pair of goggles. We also seem them running in a desert, dodging an invisible wall, using a different kind of gun that covers their targets with magnetized balls that make them so heavy they fall through the floor, with Valerian’s hand exchanging gunfire up and down busy alleys in another universe. They also get to meet various alien creatures of different bizarre appearances, some look like frogs with long snouts and others looking like jellyfish or gargoyles, all marvelously designed.

One of the movie’s most imaginative sequences features singer Rihanna as a scene-stealing shapeshifter who first performs as a nubile extraterrestrial stripper-pole dancer in a red light district working with a pimp named Jolly, played by Ethan Hawke. It’s beautifully executed and the whimsical effects are so stunning.

But the movie’s big problem is the storytelling. We do not relate or sympathize with any of the characters so, even with the astonishing eye candy on screen, the movie doesn’t really hook you. Add to that the fact that lead actors DeHaan and Delevingne are woefully miscast in their respective roles, lacking in star power and star quality, and they have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever.

When they engage in awkward banter regarding Valerian’s crush on Laureline and she talks about his womanizing, the whole thing just falls flat on the floor. DeHaan has shown he can act playing tortured souls in serious dramas like “The Place Beyond the Pines”, “Kill Your Darlings” and “Life” (where he played James Dean), but he doesn’t at all look convincing as an action star. Delevingne, in turn, should stick to modelling.

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