It is diverting enough fun, director Luc Besson running wild with all the toys in the shop with the most expensive independent film of all time. The movie perhaps has unfairly garnered harsher criticism than it deserves simply because it hints at wonderful possibilities that it never pursues.
Case in point, an opening montage of the evolution of Earth’s space stations to the tune of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ is stirring stuff, taking us from our own recent past to the distant future with the repetition of strangers performing the same gesture over and over again. The only way we’re going to get anywhere is together the sequence eloquently argues and once we do the universe will open up before us.
Dane DeHaan plays Major Valerian and Cara Delevingne is Sergeant Laureline, partner agents of a special space force sent on secret missions. Following one such mission where they retrieve a 'converter' (a seriously cute little CGI creature that poops pearls) they return to Alpha, the city of the title where many species live and work together in harmony.
They are reassigned to protect their superior Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) during a briefing where he makes it known a radioactive core is growing at the heart of Alpha that could destroy it. Chases and adventures ensue; sometimes Valerian saves the day, sometimes Laureline and sometimes both. It matters little since it’s all just a bit of fun that perhaps goes on a bit too long.
An appearance by Rihanna as shape-shifter Bubble is probably the highlight as she gives energy and pathos to a role that could have been all window dressing.
Besson and his team have a created a world with echoes of our own, but brimming with visual flair. There is so much imagination and craft that has gone into bringing whole worlds and dozens of species to life. From the smallest matter of creating colourful rank sleeves for futuristic uniforms to the more ambitious, with expensive tracking shots that follow our hero through various atmospheres and zero gravity as he pursues his foes, there is great creativity on display here but less so in the storyline.
After a moving opening that takes us to new worlds the film becomes a standard action tale. Delevinge displays a likeable pluck and DeHaan effectively conveys his character gradually putting aside his ego to genuinely care for others. Yet you can’t help but wonder what bigger stars or more experienced actors could have down with such parts.
A similar proclamation takes place at the end of this film as the one from ‘The Fifth Element’, but there Mila Jovovich and Bruce Willis were able to move you.
Boasting some of the best 3D since ‘Avatar’, the bulk of the production costs is up there on the big screen. There’s also some humour even if of the adolescent variety and it is good to see a film not suffering under the weight of its own ambition.
‘Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets’ may not boast the most compelling characters or witty dialogue, but it remains at worse a visual spectacle you can let wash over you and at best an original vision with a strong message of peace and love in a world that could use some and… a little bit of fun.