Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets movie review: 'Luc Besson's Cgi-laden labour of love is a long and exhausting car crash'
I must say I enjoyed the opening scenes of Luc Besson's sci-fi adventure, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. The story begins in the present, as astronauts and cosmonauts greet each other awkwardly on the International Space Station, a floating science lab that hovers in our inner orbit.
We then shoot into the future, as astronauts from the other great powers turn up to join the party, and are followed by a long queue of curious extraterrestrials. The ISS becomes a focus for intergalactic trade and diplomacy, and mushrooms into a giant space city. It gets so big, in fact, that it's declared a danger to the Earth and is respectfully launched out into deep space.
By the 28th century, Alpha is a dense and sophisticated self-ruling city state with its own parliament and police force. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special agents of that force, charged with troubleshooting around the galaxies to foil thieves and terrorists. In a bewilderingly complex Cgi action sequence, Valerian sneaks into a virtual souk, or black market, to steal the last living specimen of a creature called the 'converter' from a smuggler.
It's much-prized and little wonder, because when given a piece of gold or precious stone to eat, it expels vast amounts of them. They were originally in the care of a humanoid species that hailed from the planet Mul and look suspiciously like those elongated blue creatures in Avatar. But Mul was destroyed in suspicious circumstances, and the blue people are presumed to have been wiped out.
They haven't been, and when Valerian and Laureline return to Alpha, the creatures stage a dramatic raid to steal the converter. It fails, but there's much collateral damage, and the agents risk life and limb as they journey to the super-city's heart in pursuit of a misunderstood species.
Besson, I suppose, should be congratulated for amassing a budget of anything up to $200 million using crowd funding and his own money. If that figure is correct, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is the most expensive European movie ever made, but it's also among the most garish and tedious.
The film is based on a 1960s French comic book series dear to Luc Besson's heart. He's borrowed ideas from it before for films like The Fifth Element, and one assumes that, for him, Valerian was a labour of love. That may have made it difficult to discard elements of the original stories, but his film suffers from a surfeit of thrown away, half-baked ideas.
Cgi allows modern film-makers to attempt heightened fantasies that would otherwise be untellable: used sparingly, it can bring the most febrile imaginings to life. But in Valerian it's used constantly and the cumulative effect is nauseating, and made me feel like I was watching a cartoon on a drunken ferry trip.
Clive Owen was once touted as a possible James Bond. Now he turns up in films like this and looks threadbare and gloomy as Arun Filitt, a police commander whose double-dealing villainy will surprise no one. There are eye-catching cameos, from Ethan Hawke, who plays an affable but treacherous intergalactic pimp, and from Rihanna, who blows Delevingne and everyone else off the screen as a shape-shifting erotic dancer. Even jazz legend Herbie Hancock turns up as a furious, order-spouting politician, but it's all for naught in a film that's furiously busy and catastrophically unfocussed.
That opening sequence aside, Valerian never settles on an idea long enough to do any of them justice and a rolling love story between DeHaan and Delevingne is dull and chemistry-free. DeHaan is, to quote Fargo, "kinda funny looking", and directors are having trouble figuring out what to do with him. It's a pity, because he has an intense, nervy quality that could be interesting. A noted catwalk model, Delevingne has undoubted physical charisma but may have to move beyond pouting and looking beautiful if she's to meaningfully extend her acting career.
Films coming soon...
Atomic Blonde (Charlize Theron, Sofia Boutella, James McAvoy, John Goodman); A Ghost Story (Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck); Annabelle: Creation (Anthony LaPaglia, Stephanie Sigman); Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature (Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph).