Review: VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 24 July 2017

Review: VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

Valerian (Dale DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

Based on the French comic-book series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the movie revolves around intergalactic space agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) on a mission to uncover a conspiracy at the vast metropolis of Alpha.


REVIEW: It has been twenty years since Luc Besson last directed the US$90 million sci-fi fantasy of THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997), which went on to become an international cult classic. In VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, the French director finally returns to the similar sci-fi genre that matches the scope and ambition.

The vast metropolis of Alpha in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

As expected, the movie is a visually stunning piece of work. The opening scene, which features an elaborate montage of human space stations and alien space ships from every galaxy merging together to form the titular city of Alpha over the course of centuries, is a breathtaking sight to behold. Not to mention the scene is also complemented well with David Bowie's "Space Oddity" playing over the background. This is where Besson's visual storytelling skill is put to good use. As the scene unfolds, we witness the human astronauts from different countries shaking hands before the alien races join forces and the same welcoming handshakes take place. For once, it was a refreshing sight to see such scene in a sci-fi genre these days that promotes positive themes of peace and harmony.

A scene of Planet Mül in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

Besson follows up the opening-credits montage with another arresting but more colourful scene that takes place on a paradise-like planet called Mül. The planet, which filled with sandy beaches and aqua ocean, is populated by a race of thin, blue-skinned aliens that look like they are distant cousins from James Cameron's AVATAR. Once again, the similar themes of peace and harmony are on full display here as they live happily together in the idyllic landscape. If that's not enough, there is a cute little creature that bound to please many kids and female viewers.

So far, so good... that is, until the first appearance of the title character himself played by Dane DeHaan. In the past, he is good playing rebellious or emotionally disturbed roles as evident in CHRONICLE (2012) and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014). But it's hard to imagine him portraying as a romantic hero, especially given his trademark brooding look. No matter how hard he tries to be flirty or charming, DeHaan looks awkwardly miscast as Valerian. His co-star, on the other hand, fares better. Here, Cara Delevingne is both sexy and sassy as Valerian's partner, Laureline. It's just too bad the sparks fail to fly much with their odd-couple chemistry.

One of the creature designs featured in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

Back on the visual fronts, Besson knows how to fill his screen with one dazzling visual after another. Earlier in the movie, there is an elaborate scene set in the virtual-reality bazaar called the Big Market. Then, there is the scene where Besson introduces Rihanna as a shape-shifting dancer named Bubble. Although her scene is more of a cameo appearance, she manages to make effective use of her limited screentime. Also, look out for a minor role by Ethan Hawke who plays Jolly the Pimp. As for the rest, the overall creature design and the lavish CG environment are all top-notch.

Clive Owen as military commander Arün Filitt in VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017)

Whereas the independently-financed US$205 million budget on the elaborate visuals and other technical aspects are well-spent, Besson falters the most in the script department. As a sole screenwriter, his writing is erratic. He relies heavily on exposition-heavy scenarios to drive the narrative forward, while his story lacks a worthy antagonist. Even with the supposedly inspired casting of Clive Owen as the shady military commander, the seasoned English actor fails to leave a lasting impression.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS could have been a great sci-fi movie if it's not for Dane DeHaan's miscast role as the title character and Besson's haphazard screenplay. Still, the movie remains a worthy visual spectacle best experienced on the cinema.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS is packed with eye-catching visuals and colourful creatures, even though Dane DeHaan's awkward title role and Luc Besson's clunky screenplay stuck in between.

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