Valerian a rip-roaring spectacle but fails to touch the heart
Film review: Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets (12A), 4.5/10
In 1997, French writer-director Luc Besson wowed Hollywood with his flashy sci-fi epic the Fifth Element starring Milla Jovovich and Bruce Willis. Audiences reacted more favourably than some critics and the most expensive European film of the decade made a tidy profit at the box office.
Ever since, Besson has been dreaming of the day that digital effects technology will allow him to realise Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres' comic series Valerian And Laureline on the big screen.
The 20-year wait is over. Armed with a reported budget of around 200 million US dollars, the charismatic filmmaker delivers a rip-roaring spectacle that assaults the eyes but seldom touches the heart.
Valerian And the City Of A Thousand Planets brazenly melds elements of Star Wars and Avatar to explore the destruction of otherworldly races in the 28th century.
It's evident that this is the opening salvo of a potential franchise but it's hard to see further adventures for these poorly sketched characters when on-screen chemistry between leads Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne is inert and plotting is so haphazard.
An eye-catching supporting role for pop star Rihanna as a shape-shifting pole dancer is a pleasing distraction but completely superfluous to the rambling narrative that loudly bangs a drum for tolerance and understanding in a time of conflict and racial tension.
The special effects-laden romp centres on gung-ho time-travelling agent Major Valerian (DeHaan) and his sassy partner, Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne).
The bickering lovebirds are enlisted to steal a rare creature known as a Converter, which can replicate anything it swallows, from the clutches of space pirate Igon Siruss (voiced by John Goodman).
The mission goes awry but Valerian and Laureline escape with the precious cargo and deliver the creature to Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) aboard the space station Alpha, where hundreds of alien races live in harmony.
This vast outpost of almost 30 million residents speaking 5,000 languages is overseen by Captain Neza (Kris Wu) and his crew.
Supposedly extinct humanoids infiltrate Alpha and abduct Commander Filitt on Valerian and Laureline's watch.
They give chase and stumble upon a wider conspiracy involving the destruction of an alien world many years ago.
The search for painful answers leads to a nightclub run by Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke), whose star performer is a shape-shifting creature named Bubble (Rihanna).
Valerian And the City Of A Thousand Planets grinds through the gears, orchestrating breathless action sequences to distract from the workmanlike script.
DeHaan is so laid back as the titular hero that he might as well be in hyper sleep, while Delevingne wears the futuristic costumes with elan.
The identity of the chief villain is hilariously evident but Besson and his scriptwriters insist on biding their time before the anticlimactic big reveal.