Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (2017)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/30/17
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Herbie Hancock, cameos by Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer.

"I don't want you to die for me. I want you to trust me."

A fun and silly sci-fi spectacle that asks you to check all skepticism, cynicism, and sense of logic at the door. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are top government agents who have been dispatched to retrieve a precious artifact from a group of unsavory underworld traders. This leads them to an incident on Space Station Alpha which threatens the lives of millions of people from thousands of different races. Not surprisingly, the incident is just a cover-up for a clandestine military operation that Valerian and Laureline are determined to get to the bottom of.

Much like Luc Besson's "The Fifth Element" (1997), the presentation is overly campy and the quirky humor is forced and unfunny. It's difficult to get into the right head space to appreciate Besson's unabashedly gleeful and whimsical vision of the future, but once you're there, it can be a lot of fun. The film is visually overwhelming and packed full of incredible scenery and fantastic creatures. Luc Besson is in his element here, and he tackles the material with the wide-eyed wonder and unrestrained enthusiasm of a child in a candy store. As such, the story is rather weak and the pacing suffers from overly long and drawn out set pieces. Sadly, too much of a good thing ultimately ends up hurting the film.

While Valerian is an annoying character, Dane DeHaan does a respectable job with the role and he slowly grows on you. The delightful Cara Delevingne imbues Laureline with amazing hair and effortless charm, and I simply couldn't get enough of her. Her quick temper, disdainful glare, and devilish smirk are a perfect foil for Valerian's cocky attitude and arrogant swagger, and they make a cute couple despite the lack of any romantic chemistry between them. She looks great with a gun and has a couple of nicely executed action scenes, which I definitely appreciated. Rihanna has a small role as a shape-shifting sex worker, and she delivers a visually compelling and emotionally heartfelt performance.

As long as you go into the film with an open mind and don't think about the details too hard, or at all, "Valerian" can be an exciting fantasy adventure where the rules of logic and physics don't apply. What I found most interesting is that the trailers for the film describe a very different story and use scenes that aren't even in it. While you could easily cry foul at that (the original trailer for "Rogue One" used 47 shots that weren't in the final film), it made the film seem surprising and fresh because it hadn't been spoiled by overly aggressive marketing and advertising efforts. You're being sold the world and the setting rather than the specific details, and I found that to be very refreshing.