It’s long been claimed that George Lucas famously “borrowed” (read: “stole”) many of the ideas that were originally presented in the decades-old French comic book series “Valérian and Laureline,” written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières. When watching the new Luc Besson directed film based on those comics, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” you’ll definitely notice many parallels with the “Star Wars” films. But remember: the Frenchmen did it first.
Fans of Besson will be giddy with excitement because the film feels like he was able to let it all hang out, creatively speaking. It’s weird, it’s boisterous, it’s intoxicating, and it’s a wildly imaginative take from a man who has a noticeable, over-the-top adoration for the genre. I cannot imagine anyone else in the director’s seat for this outrageously exaggerated (if sometimes flawed) visual spectacle.
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are agents charged with maintaining order throughout the galaxy. The film puts them in all sorts of wild adventures and predicaments (where it does briefly overstay its welcome with a too long two hours plus run time), but the story never lags until its final 15 minutes and even then, it’s still entertaining as all get-out. While it’s true that the performances aren’t great (although I did very much enjoy Ethan Hawke‘s brief cameo as a space pimp), it truly doesn’t matter: the awesome visual effects are the real superstar of this film.
Calling the effects incredible or flawless isn’t doing them any justice. The set pieces are truly beyond imagination, filled with a colorful and visionary innovation that is a real feast for the eyes. From the stunning space age costumes to the breathtaking sequences (including one particular gorgeously unforgettable bit in an alternate dimension marketplace), this is thrilling eye candy in the greatest sense. This is yet another substantial entry into this summer’s roll call of innovative films with impeccable special effects.
There’s a lot of hate for this movie and yes, the plot could be more focused and the performances can come across as quite lackluster at times, but I think some critics are simply being far too harsh, especially when it comes to Besson’s lead casting choices. It’s interesting because DeHaan and Delevingne are two extremely unlikable and unappealing actors, yet when paired together something magical happens. You may hate them apart but you’ll love them together.
There’s this detached, aloof chemistry that works tenfold and, despite the squawking chorus of thousands of fanboy critics who will vehemently disagree, I find this film to be perfectly cast. No, DeHaan isn’t a larger than life sci-fi hero, but it’s his understated presence that allows him to willingly sit in the passenger seat while the visual spectacle outshines just about everything else in the film.
No doubt “Valerian” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re into the sheer beauty and artistry of movies or energetic, rousing sci-fi, you may just love it as much as I did.