Director Luc Besson
Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets allows director Luc Besson to bring a childhood dream to the big screen. Published in 1967 Valerian and Laureline gained popularity in France, eventually seeing an American release and reprinting. The comic became a source of inspiration for the young Besson, and he later went on to work with Valerian illustrator Jean-Claude Merierez to bring his own sci-fi epic, The Fifth Element, to life. Decades later Besson has returned to the genre of space opera to bring us the colourful and strange world of the 28th century.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, follows the adventures of two human operatives as they attempt to keep the peace of the galaxy. In this case, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sargent Laureline (Cara Delevingne) confront a threat to the floating space city of Alpha, a community consisting of an amalgam of representatives from a thousand alien worlds. At it’s heart lies a growing zone from which no-one has returned, an unknown menace which is threatening to engulf all of Alpha.
This is certainly a hugely rich setting. Even for a space opera, this throws lot of strange and varied elements into the mix; pearl pooping pets, telepathic jellyfish, trans-dimensional marketplaces, and shape-changing exotic dancers. It’s a vast playground full of life and colour, imaginative and fantastic, but bewilderingly so. There is never a sense that all this fits together as any sort of cohesive whole, but rather a convenient patchwork, cobbled together for the needs of the plot. This is a sense that permeates all of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. In part that dates back to the original comics, which herald from an era before fans became obsessed with canon. However, in remaining true to that spirit of the original comics, Besson has created a work that feels archaic.
Nor is that the only thing that is dated. The sexual politics in City of a Thousand Planets is cringe-worthy. Laureline seems to be constantly treated like a second class citizen, having to prove she is three times as good at the job, to get half the respect. Then there is the constant flirtation by her superior officer (Valerian). Although this is supposed to come across as beguiling, it lands closer to workplace harassment.
Finally add the implosive sexual chemistry of DeHaan and Delevingne. Yes, I do mean implosive. Opposite to explosive, drains the energy from around it, causes a collapse. Implosive.
There is no spark between the two leads. Every interaction they have draws life from the bright, candy coloured world surrounding them. Separately, Delevingne probably fares better at conveying her character, bringing the intelligence and fierceness of Laureline to life. DeHaan by contrast lacks that indefinable charisma to pull off the cockiness of Valerian. Bring them together, and the only chance they have to generate a spark would be to clad them in copper and drag them through a shag-pile carpet just prior to a thunderstorm.
Despite of all of Besson’s efforts, this attempt to bring his childhood love to the screen won’t be as well remembered as his previous delve into sci-fi. City of a Thousand Planets lacks the creative verve and witty editing that made The Fifth Element soar. By contrast the pace here is almost lumpen. Combined with leaden chemistry, and a confusing and overstuffed script,City of a Thousand Planets doesn’t quiet achieve lift off.
Which is a pity, as despite the numerous complaints, there is a lot to like here in the richness of the world, and the inventiveness of the design. The computer effects bring us a science fiction world we have never seen before, and are unlikely to see again. It’s just not quiet enough.