Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Film Review
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke
Director: Luc Besson
Imagine Star Trek on hallucinogenics, mixed in with the wonderful digital wizardry of the WETA team, and you'd be quite close to what Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets manages to achieve.
With a budget estimated to be $210 million, and helmed by the man who brought us The Fifth Element and the much under-rated Lucy, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a French science fiction comic series Valerian and Laureline.
A Cure For Wellness' DeHaan plays Valerian, a major in a 28th Century space federation who trudges from mission to mission with his colleague Sergeant Laureline, played by model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne.
Following a dream of a low-tech planet that's vaporised by marauding ships, Valerian discovers his next mission is to retrieve a "converter", an animal that holds the key to reproducing resources and is highly sought on the black market.
But, it seems not only he is after the converter, and soon more nefarious groups are showing up and a major conspiracy is revealed...
It seems somewhat pointless to rail against Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets on some level.
With its wild, throw everything digitally at the world and hope some of it sticks ethos, there's no doubting the grandeur and scale of this cinematic and hyper-kinetic folly.
The film sets out its stall in its opening moments as a montage of cuts introduces us to various first contacts with races from around the galaxy, each bubbling with a life and visual flair from WETA Digital which reeks of a competition to see who can provide the most out there creatures.
But, much like Star Trek's Federation did all those years ago with Deep Space Nine, there's a continuity of critters which is pleasing. When an emergency meeting is convened later on, the various races from the opening are found to be seated around the tables; it's a touch that shows Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is committed to its universe and the internal logic of it all.
And there are some seriously trippy and gorgeous visuals at play here.
Worlds have blue and red clouds hanging in their skies, and Valerian's dream sequence certainly has a distinctly Na'vi meets Prometheus' Engineers vibe to its stretched out lanky aliens. A space market sequence later on is Mos Eisley on speed mixed with George Lucas' desire to over-populate the world within with as much as you can handle.
In fact, the digital scale and ambition of this hyper-kinetic film leap off the screen and beg you to luxuriate within.
So it's a shame to report that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets suffers because of its human elements and the tonal mish-mash they bring.
DeHaan delivers his lines as if he's trying to impersonate Keanu Reeves' Bill and Ted outing, imbuing most of it without any touches of emotion or ambition. Delevingne doesn't fare much better either, reducing Laureline to a series of eye-rolls and carefully orchestrated bursts of childish petulance as the story goes on.
It's not fatal to the feel of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets but it does, unfortunately, stop you engaging fully with the overlong execution of what is at best, a minimal story.
All in all, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets probably would work better as a cartoon series than a fledgling franchise launch.
It feels like it's aimed at youngsters, as the more kiddy elements of the film make it feel like it's a space romp for them to revel in - there are elements of the script-writing of The Phantom Menace in some of the dialogue, and given its delivery by two relatively wooden leads, it stands out.
But yet, as a saga, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets delivers something that's distinctly Besson and his idiosyncracies; it's distinctly European in its outlook and laissez-faire attitude, but undoubtedly it can't be criticised for the breadth and depth of its truly astounding digital scope.