sat 21/10/2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review - Rihanna on pole can't save tiring space opera | reviews, news & interviews

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review - Rihanna on pole can't save tiring space opera

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review - Rihanna on pole can't save tiring space opera

Brace for impact: Luc Besson's frenetic space fantasy runs out of warp factor

No chemistry: Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in 'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets'

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets starts promisingly: there’s Bowie’s Space Oddity on the soundtrack (a bit clichéd but evocative) and a sly montage of personnel handovers at an international space station over the decades. Astronauts from different earthly nations are superseded by increasingly awkward and funny encounters between human astronauts and phantasmagorical creatures arriving for their tour of duty – which alien protuberance will include an approximate hand to shake? And just what is that slime?

Unfortunately the witty opening is bulldozed all too rapidly by the relentless need to get down to the hyperkinetic chase sequences and intergalactic shoot-outs which dominate for over two hours. It's a confused plot but essentially there’s a peaceful planet inhabited by the Pearls, elegant aliens who look like a fusion of the Na’avi people from Avatar and some Masai tribesmen. They live harmoniously, fuelled by the abundant energy provided by magical pearl-like balls excreted from a cute armadillo-like creature. But paradise is destroyed when their planet becomes the accidental backdrop to an intergalactic battle. The Pearls send a psychic transmission begging for help; it just happens to connect with Valerian, a government space agent, and his partner Laureline who ride to the rescue, battling corrupt generals and malevolent aliens along the way. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Basing his latest fantasy on a long-running cult French comic Valérian et Laureline, Luc Besson tries to top his 1997 cult movie, The Fifth Element. You have to admire his ambition and his desire to create a wholly spectacular fantasy cosmos. His $180 million budget has allowed him to play with a very full palette of special effects, CGI and to explore the architectural possibilities of 3D. There are some wonderfully inventive alien creatures riffing on Teletubbies, komodo dragons and hybrid crocodile-spoonbills (pictured above) – combined with the shifting landscape of Alpha, the city with a thousand planets, it’s obvious where a lot of the money went. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to cover paying for someone else to write the script (Besson’s dialogue and plot exposition is woefully clunky) or prevent him from some serious miscasting.

The central character, Valerian, is played by Dane DeHaan, who simply isn’t the Harrison Ford/Chris Pratt romantic action lead that’s required. He is deathly dull as Valerian, lacking both the essential athletic charm or the ability to redeem the turgid dialogue. His flirtation with Cara Delevingne as his partner Laureline holds no chemistry whatsoever, and his attempts to woo her verge on bullying and become plain boring. Besson is generally better with casting female heroes – think Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita and the wondrous Natalie Portman in Léon.

Rihanna in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Delevingne gives a surprisingly good performance as Laureline; she's funny and confident in her moves as well as being a great pleasure to look at in her kick-ass costumes. The less said about Clive Owen's performance as an evil general the better; you wonder why there was no role for Besson's regular nemesis, Jean Reno. Rutger Hauer appears briefly as the President of the World and it has to be said that 3D Imax is not a kind medium for a mature actor. Those of us who remember his otherworldly beauty in Blade Runner will find it heartbreaking to see his close-up today. Meanwhile, Herbie Hancock unaccountably turns up as a defence minister politician (he isn’t doing the soundtrack, which is a deafening pastiche of Star Wars clichés).

Valerian and Laureline end up on the shape-shifting planet/city of Alpha, where Besson really goes to town on the alien menagerie; imagine the Star Wars cantina scene on acid. Ethan Hawke pops up with a camp turn as a brothel boss, Jolly the Pimp; he gives a sub-Depp in Pirates of the Carribean performance. His character borders on being painfully homophobic. Rihanna (pictured above) plays a shape-shifting dancing girl-cum-jelly-creature called Bubbles; her burlesque pole-dancing number stops the shooting-and-racing around scenes for a while, which is a relief. She is mesmerising when she sings, although there are moments in her CGI transformations when she's obviously more pixels than flesh. Her cameo can't save a film which rummages furiously for its own style, ransacking the space-opera back-catalogue.

There are echoes throughout of the camp excesses of BarbarellaFlash Gordon, Guardians of the Galaxy and Mad Max (there's even a faint homage to Jean Cocteau’s Orpheé with its rippling mirror entry points into another world). Cramming way too much into the mix, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets never finds its own clear identity. This is the perfect movie for 13-year-old boys (my son absolutely loved the gags and relentless action). Doutbless the audience who turned The Fifth Element into a cult movie will find treasures in Besson's hyperkinetic aesthetics, but it is more than a little tiring for the rest of us. 

Cara Delevingne is funny and confident and a great pleasure to look at in her kick-ass costumes

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters