By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Valerian is a complicated sci-fi cat. Like Besson’s The Fifth Element, it relies heavily on style and quirk, but lacks complexity or depth in its two youthful characters.
Based on the popular graphic novels ‘Valerian and Laureline’, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is set in the distant future where agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delavingne) are sent to Alpha, the city of 1000 planets, to investigate a strange alien force wreaking havoc at the city’s core.
This film is nowhere near as bad as critics are making it out to be. A simple misunderstanding of the trailer and marketing has led many to expect a Star Wars or Marvel formula film. But remember, this is a Luc Besson film, and it was bound to be packed with plot flaws, and gloriously camp characters.
The devil is in the details. It’s the little guys that our two hero agents run into that really stand out. John Goodman’s tough guy ‘Jabba the Huttish’ figure Igon Siruss, Ethan Hawke’s loud and proud ‘Jolly the Pimp’, and even Rihanna, who puts on one hell of a cabaret act as the glamour pod ‘Bubble’, and probably has one of the most memorable performances in the whole film. I could honestly bang on forever about the minor characters in this film.
However, it’s unfortunately our two leads DeHaan and Delavingne that don’t really deliver, and it’s not for a lack of trying. It’s probably a question of the characters in general. Their lack of depth and the generic love story that follows seems to sink under the weight of the the rest of this colourful film, which is also packed with social commentaries. The couple also seem a bit young and inexperienced for such hardcore spy roles… as if Besson was aiming for a teenage audience, but this is not The Hunger Games… this is The Fifth Element on steroids.
Valerian has all of the quality weirdness and eye candy of The Fifth Element, right down to the cosmic costumes and the impeccable creature design. Even the plot has similarities. Both films deal with the destruction of races by superpowers, and both explore themes of war and asylum seeking. Valerian’s ideology though is a little forced and could have benefited from being more subtle. Bubble’s refugee story was touching but seemed to be a little out of the blue and contrived, as were some of the action sequences.
Otherwise, Valerian has heart and is a lovable little critter, much like the priceless ‘converter’ alien in the film. It’s extravagantly dressed from head to toe and has some truly memorable moments. The fishing scene, and the Big Market were my favourites, and how could you not enjoy the moving first contact sequence on the ISS with David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, or that morning in paradise on Planet Mul? Gorgeous.
I believe Valerian is misunderstood, and ahead of its time. I wouldn’t be surprised if it made a comeback on DVD and Blu-ray, and eventually achieved a cult status… then again, I’m a huge fan of The Fifth Element and the Besson style so my judgement could be clouded on this one.