A review of the sci-fi blockbuster “Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets”

You have to admire an artist with ambition who is prepared to take risks and French writer/director Luc Besson is an original in the world of cinema. He has given us such wonders as “Leon”, “The Fifth Element” and “Lucy” – works of variable success – plus the under-rated and under-known “The Lady” and even co-scripted the three “Taken” movies, so his eclectic work has added to the joys of the big screen.

The science fiction tale of “Valerian” is his most ambitious film yet – seven years in the making and, at an estimated $180M, the most expensive independent movie ever made. Was it worth it? Well, the result is part brilliant and part bonkers and sadly these are not even equal parts.

Let’s start with the plaudits. Even in the 2D in which I chose to see a work that threatens sensory overload, “Valerian” is quite spectacular. Adapted from a comic strip and set in the 28th century, it conjures up about 200 different alien species (some of them wonderful) and a variety of amazing worlds which include the eponymous city, a race of elongated glitter people, a virtual reality shopping mall, and a red light district with a marvellous shape-shifting character called Bubble (the splendid Rihinna).

Apparently, there are almost 3,000 special effect shots in this movie. Whereas so many sci-fi works postulate a dystopian future, Besson has created a positive future with a universe in which thousands of different species happily co-exist and ethnicity and gender are blurred.

So what’s wrong with “Valerian”? Above all, the plot is weak and the script is even weaker. And then there’s the acting.

The main characters – federal agents Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline – are played respectively by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevinge and, while both look pretty, he can probably act but doesn’t (and sounds eerily like Keanu Reeves) while she still can’t act and doesn’t realise it (but has time to learn), while the chemistry between the two (as well as solving a mystery they are conducting a kind of romance) is non-existent. Clive Owen is unconvincing, Ethan Hawke is underused, and lord knows what Herbie Hancock is doing there.

Unfortunately this expensive movie is going to cost Besson dear and not just financially, but I suspect that in time it will acquire a curiosity value and maybe even a cult following.


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