Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
Written and Directed by Luc Besson
Major Valerian and his partner, Sergeant Laureline are sent on a mission to recover an essential piece of technology and return it to the former International Space Station, now Alpha (the titular City of a Thousand Planets). Valerian has a sense he is connected to this artifact and that the police force onboard Alpha is being less than honest about the nature of this thing. He and Laureline become embroiled in an increasingly complex and byzantine plot aboard the melting pot called Alpha.
Valerian is a visually gorgeous film with some of the most atrocious, amateur acting and needlessly convoluted plotting I have ever seen in a movie of this production scale. The first five minutes, detailing the origins of Alpha introduce some great ideas…and then anything interesting brought up is dropped for a Florida theme park style roller coaster ride that feels soulless and empty. Helming this shitfest that is Valerian are two of our generation’s worst actors: Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne. Let’s talk about them for a moment, shall we?
After a few small roles, Dane DeHaan lept into the public consciousness with the found footage superhero film Chronicle. Later I saw his take on Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Earlier this year I caught Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness with DeHaan in the lead. And now Valerian. My take away from this actor is that he merely is shit. He affects the voice an adolescent boy might if trying to impress a girl and create the illusion that he is older and more hardened. DeHaan exhibits absolutely zero charisma and does nothing exciting with any material he is given. He attempts to “smolder” on screen, which ends up looking more like a form of chronic constipation.
Cara Delevingne is a slightly less offensive culprit in this mess. She does have a natural charisma, as witnessed in interviews. And I have only seen her in one other film, the god-awful Suicide Squad, a picture where it is hard to blame much solely on Delevingne. In Valerian, I am also baffled as to how much is her own lack of ability to act and how much is the horrible dialogue from the script and lackluster direction from Besson. We’re meant to feel the sexual chemistry crackle between her and DeHaan, but each bit of witty repartee is less like fireworks and more like one of those underwhelming snake things.
Luc Besson has managed to traffic off the success of two films: Leon the Professional and The Fifth Element. These are over twenty years old, and since then he has continued to make movies, just none anyone seems to care about. I personally believe much of what we associate with his vision is more the work of artist Moebius who did production design on The Fifth Element. Valerian is most definitely an attempt to rekindle that aesthetic, piling on hyperactive worldbuilding and information downloads. Where The Fifth Element trusted your intelligence to decipher how this strange new world works, Valerian opts for clunky, awkward exposition that feels like the filmmaker is worried we’re too dumb to keep up with his stupid movie.
Valerian and The City of Thousand Planets has a lot of good elements, but collectively is yet another cacophony of mindless sound and noise, simplistic thematic development, and terribly lazy dialogue. With different casting of its leads, the movie could have salvaged something, but as it is, it is so unenjoyable and sloppy.