Posted Aug 03 2017

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets - This Typically Mental Besson Movie Doesn't Quite Manage The Whole Rocks Thing

Dir: Luc Besson

Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer, Herbie Hancock

It’s almost impossible to dislike a movie that opens with a montage covering a couple of hundred years, from the 1970s SkyLab onwards, as man meets a procession of species, first from its own home planet, and then increasingly from beyond – all set beautifully to David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Besson’s tongue is firmly in his cheek here (as it seems content to remain throughout the rest of the movie, often to lessening effect), but it’s a terrific sequence.

What follows is a further two hours that range between striking and impressive visuals, battling for screen time with one dimensional performances, bordering on dreadful dialogue, and a procession of action sequences that never take pause to allow them to have any real sort of impact. You don’t go to a Luc Besson film for the ordinary, and there are elements of his long cherished comic book adaptation that are indeed out of the ordinary. And as usual, there is excess. The man has always had a penchant for batshit crazy. But where something like his ridiculous Lucy worked remarkably well, full of vim, vinegar, violence and well-balanced absurdity, this is (obviously) a very direct companion piece to The Fifth Element. And whilst that film seems to have found favour in the twenty years in between, at the time it was a crushing disappointment (and should still be regarded sans the rose tinted specs of false nostalgia.)

But at least it had Bruce Willis. And even a way over the top Gary Oldman. This has Dane DeHaan who, only recently, was looking at a really promising career, one that now seems almost dead in the water (put this side by side with A Cure For Wellness and the man has not had a good year.). His one note performance as space patrol guy Valerian does nothing but encourage his fall from grace. Cara too has sought to avoid the curse of “model turned…” and has acquitted herself well in some small indie movies to date. It’s not that she’s not any good here – it’s just that she genuinely has next to nothing to do. Clive Owen meanwhile has the set chomping Oldman part here – but just gives the impression he really can’t be bothered. On a scale of 1 to 11 (where Oldman was a 12 or 13), Owen registers just about a 4. And we mean “just about.” Far better at overplaying a small role is Ethan Hawke, but he unfortunately doesn’t stick around long enough. And as to Rihanna? Well she dresses up as Liza Minnelli and Britney Spears both. And then pole dances.

But Valerian was never gong to be a film about performance. Besson waited so long to make it because the fx weren’t there yet. Well they are now, and whilst we get plenty of them, they rarely manage to engage. The action movie flare the filmmaker displayed to such strong effect in the earth-bound Lucy seems to have deserted him in the vacuum of space. The most curious thing about the almost relentless always-running-forward pace of Valerian is just how quickly the whole thing becomes – and remains – really rather dull. (And don’t get us started on the humour of the piece – there isn’t any. And no one told the cast.)

But, for all its faults, Valerian and The Excessively Long Title is not quite the disaster its box office failure (to date – come on China!) might suggest. Besson always has his moments. But it is very disappointing.

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