There is a lot going on in VALERIAN, THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017), and some of it you’ve seen before. It really doesn’t matter.
Rakish hero (kind of a cross between Keanu Reeves and Parker Lewis (Fox, 2017)) chasing his dream girl with little success, a forgotten species with a terrible secret, an ambitious military with designs of genocide, a sprinkling of famous faces, dazzling special effects. You sit down in the theater, put on your glasses, and the moment you hear Davie Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, you forget to even breathe.
Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his right hand, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are a team of well-appointed space cop/spies takes with retrieving the last known energy converter in the universe to save the massive floating “city,” Alpha. There are sinister plans behind the scenes as that converter is wanted by others, for what no one knows, but sabotage, kidnapping, and backstabbing ensue. Along the way there is Herbie Hancock, Ethan Hawke, Clive Owen, and Rhianna – don’t scoff – she’s incredible. It’s dramatic, sappy, and sweeping. You can’t help but have a good time.
Never mind what VALERIAN is about – the movie is gorgeous. from Space Station Alpha to the inter-dimensional Big Market to the tranquil innocence of Planet Mül there is nothing in this film not sucking at your eyeballs. I recommend seeing this in 3D for the sheer joy of the chase scenes and mind-boggling depth of everything surrounding everything. This is what Besson does best – showing us what could be in as many colors as he can imagine. Despite the dire circumstances and the multitudes of species – Alpha is a utopia of everyone working together and sharing knowledge, even in the Atlantic City-like atmosphere of Paradise Alley. the alien and the familiar work in beautiful concert.
This is a soapy space opera, based on the 60’s comic Valerian and Laureline, the focus is on the adventure – not the actors. You notice the familiar faces, but before you can think, “hey that’s – ” the adventure continues, and there are a lot of adventures. You can’t get bored with everything going on, and unlike some movies with multiple converging storylines, there’s nothing to get confused. You’ll root for the good guys, even if you’re not always sure who they are.
My favorite characters where the Doghan Daguis, sort of a cross between Howard the Duck and a gargoyle. Wee purveyors of all sorts of information, they exist as a trio – one mind in three bodies. finishing each other’s sentences in rapid-fire fluidity. They know everything, and for a price that information is yours. The Italian Mob, Ferengi and Zorg – all rolled into one.
The quibbles I have about VALERIAN mostly have to do with how Besson handles romances in general (unrealistically) and the heroic sacrifices of some allies which often about to plot bunny in a fridge. That part feels too familiar.
So remember – you’re not going to see VALERIAN because Luc Besson is philosophically deep in his handling of future inter-species conflict. You’re going because Luc Besson’s vision of the future is eye-candy that fills your happy places with bright, beautiful wonder.
VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS is rated PG-13 for space fighting, mild swears, and Bubbles the stripper glampod doing a jaw-dropping stripper pole act with multiple, suggestive costume changes.