Monday, 14 August 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets



Luc Besson’s new sci-fi adventure film is a big gorgeous mess. I say this with a lot of appreciation and frustration - for what might have been. 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a series of French graphic novels called Valerian and Laureline. The film begins with the destruction of a beautiful planet called Mül which is inhabited by a peaceful and simple humanoid race. While a small group of survivors escapes the destruction, one of those who didn’t make it is able, before she dies, to send a part of herself (soul?) to the sleeping Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan), a young human police officer in a giant city in space called Alpha. When Valerian awakes from the dream, in which he sees the destruction of Mül, he learns that his new mission is to recover the last Mül converter from a black market dealer. The Mül converter is actually a small creature that can produces dozens more of whatever it is fed. With his partner, Laureline (Cara Delevingne), with whom he is in love, Valerian is able to complete the mission, but this has consequences he and Laureline could never have imagined, with conspiracies to combat and  the genocide of an entire species on the line.

Along the way, we meet such characters as The President of the World State Federation (Rutger Hauer), Valerian’s commanding officer, Arün Filit (Clive Owen), a shapeshifting entertainer named Bubble (Rihanna), Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) and the galaxy’s most wanted criminal, voiced by John Goodman. Most of these are barely more than cameos, but they’re all fun to watch. Unfortunately, they may be more fun to watch than our two protagonists, whose acting is only barely adequate (DeHaan in particular is a questionable casting choice). 

But then again, there is so much insane action in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and so little character development, that perhaps it would be impossible to do a convincing portrayal of the protagonists. The action is the film’s biggest handicap, filling so much time with pointless chases and stupid violence (which would have required an R rating if it hadn’t been for the alien blood) that the intriguing story at the film’s core is all but lost. As a result, the film’s first half hour and last half hour are actually very entertaining and even profound, while the 75 minutes in between is almost a complete waste of time (and so boring for me).

That intriguing story concerns the survivors from Mül (add another l and you have the German word for ‘garbage’, which may be something to think about). To me, this story seemed like an obvious allegory about colonialism, the genocide of Indigenous peoples and even capitalism. Unfortunately, this story is overwhelmed by all the craziness Valerian and Laureline get involved in before they meet the Mül. So sad. 

So in spite of the absolutely gorgeous CGI cinematography, the great cameos and the powerful story at its core, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets gets only ***. My mug is up, but the stuff inside could have been so much more delicious. 

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