In the 28th Century, space station Alpha, in the Magellan Current, has attracted millions of intergalactic species where all have lived in peace and cooperation. Special agents for the human police, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), are sent on a secret undercover mission to find “the converter” and return it to rightful hands and prevent an apocalypse in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”
I have been seeing the posters for “Valerian” at the theaters for months. The promise of a great intergalactic adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy and cutting edge CGI seemed like a good draw. And, it does hit all the marks. It is an intergalactic adventure. There is tongue-in-cheek comedy – in rapid fire bursts. It uses cutting edge CGI – to sometimes remarkable effects. But…
Reading up on the source material that director/screenwriter Luc Besson adapted from the Valerian and Laureline comic book series – Pierre Christen and Jean-Claude Mezieres began the series way back in 1967, when “graphic novels” were called comic books – one thing struck me. And it is the same thing that bothered me when I watched the film – the character, Valerian.
From the first time we meet the title character – after introducing the wonderful, endangered world of the Pearl People – I felt that Dane DeHaan is 100% wrong for the swashbuckling, swaggering Valerian. Throughout the film, I kept thinking that they should have cast Valerian’s older, bigger brother in the role. DeHaan is a talented actor but I never believed him as the character – not his fault, but he is miscast. Normally, with a lesser character, this would not be a problem, but with the star?
Model turned actress Cara Delevingne pulls off the strong sidekick role as Valerian’s assistant, Sergeant Laureline, but, really, is the brains of the team. Her sarcastic, often physical, reactions to any situation fit the character and you know she will use her blaster any time she has to resolve a nasty situation. And, the actor has comic timing and uses it well.
The large cast has some great characters and star cameos sprinkled throughout the CGI bombast. Clive Owen is the suitably sinister Commander, who has his own awful agenda. Ethan Hawke plays Jolly the Pimp, Herbie Hancock is the Defense Minister, Rutger Hauer is the President of the World State Federation, John Goodman is a CGI alien mobster named Igon Sirus and a plethora of other actors play both human and alien creatures. None really stand out – except Rihanna as the shape-shifting alien named Bubble, who steals the show helping Valerian in his mission, and the trio of capitalistic Shingouz.
This brings us to the CGI. The Doghan Daguis are bird-like critters, about a meter tall with long snouts in place of beaks, that are always out to make a buck. The CGI trio of Doghan Daguis are the comic relief and are great fun and should get more screen time in the sequel (which I do not doubt will happen if the first entry is a box office hit). They are, along with the multi-creature Bubble, representative of the commitment that Besson gives to computer-generated “reality” that fills “Valerian.” The CGI cannot make up for the film’s problem but it sure helps get through the 2+ hour runtime for a film. (90 minutes would have been better.) I give it a C+.
In 2740, government agents Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan, "Chronicle") and his partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevinge, "Paper Towns") begin their day on an impossibly beautiful beach, but when they receive their latest mission from the Minister of Defense (Herbie Hancock) that beach is revealed as a simulation. They hit the flight deck to travel to the planet Kirian, tasked with retrieving a Mül Converter, a creature that poops out multiple copies of whatever it is fed. Being the last of its kind, the Converter is a hot commodity, and it will not be until much later that Valerian learns just who he stole it from in "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets."
Writer/director Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element," "Lucy") grew up with Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières' graphic novel series and long dreamed of bringing it to the screen. It was "Avatar" that convinced him technology had caught up to the demands of its story and, if nothing else, "Valerian" is one huge dollop of eye candy. But as visually splendid as his movie is, Besson's miscast DeHaan as his 'player Major,' a serious distraction in a gloriously gonzo film.
The film opens on Mül, a stunningly beautiful planet of sand and sea whose tall, slender, glittering inhabitants known as The Pearls source energy from their iridescent namesakes, multiplied by pet Converters. Their entire planet is destroyed by a war being fought in their atmosphere, the royal court saved within a spaceship bunker but for its princess, who flashes her soul through the cosmos and into the startled Valerian.
Valerian runs into trouble dealing with Khodar’Khan criminal overlord Igon Siruss (voice of John Goodman) in Kirian's Big Market, the multi-dimensional space presenting unique challenges, but he passes the Converter to Laureline and they make it out by the skin of their teeth. They are to deliver it to Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) on Alpha, an enormous space station where thousands of species live in varying ecosystems, a city of a thousand planets. Filitt has a major crisis on his hands, a radioactive space in the center of Alpha which continues to grow and which none of his troops have returned from alive. Then Filitt's kidnapped, as is Laureline, leaving Valerian to ferret out the truth while saving the partner who's been resisting his woo.
There haven't been this many inventive aliens on screen since "Star Wars'" cantina, from the annoyingly amusing trio of platypus-like Doghan Daguis to googly-eyed ogres who fish for humans with butterfly lures. Traveling through Alpha's Red Light district, Valerian's courted by Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke, channeling "Apocalypse Now" era Dennis Hopper), who offers up Bubble (Rihanna), a sexual fantasy shape shifter (her extraordinary, morphing performance is almost worth the price of admission alone). Meanwhile Laureline's being dressed up by one of those ogres to serve at a banquet for the fussy Emperor Boulan Bathor III only to find she's what's for dinner. There are the bird-of-prey-like K-Trons, 300 ton aquatic Bromosaurs and a jellyfish that serves as a crystal ball. Rutger Hauer cameos as President of the World State Federation while French directors Louis Letterier, Benoit Jacquot and Olivier Megaton serve as military officers.
Weta Digital, whose recent work on "War of the Planet of the Apes" astounds, was responsible for motion capture work while ILM and Rodeo FX covered the rest (the film has more fx shots, 2,734, than "Rogue One"). The film is overlong, but there's always something new to delight the eye right around the corner.
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