Luc Besson has a history of involvement in many action-packed fun movies. His movies are more concerned with moving the plot along than just pure logic. When he creates a new world, such as in “The Fifth Element”, it can be impressive and very detailed. When he has a strong emotional tie to the material, he treats it with great care. That is what is happening with “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”. He wanted to bring the graphic novel source material to life.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” makes a quick update on the state of human space exploration. In the first few minutes, it visually shows that an International Space Station is welcoming humans of every race up on board to make a new home. Soon there are non-human species that also arrive, so the station gets bigger and bigger. It soon has to be moved out to its own little corner of the galaxy, now that it is home to hundreds of species and tens of thousands of beings.
This place is called ‘Alpha’ and it ruled by large council. There is a Defense Minister (Herbie Hancock) and a leading General Filitt (Clive Owen). There are two Federal agents working to keep the peace in space. Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is ready to defend the Federation laws in space. There he is joined by Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne). They are about to go on a super-secret mission, but Valerian has just had the oddest dream. He was captivated with a vision of a planet called Mül. This perfect world is destroyed by sinister outside forces, and the dying princess of the Mül people cried out to Valerian.
But first the mission needs to happen, so they meet a military team on a distant planet. Valerian and Laureline are disguised as tourists in a freakish bazaar. This multi-dimensional place has lots of gaudy visitors and gift stalls. There are also pirates selling stolen one-of-a-kind items. Items like the “converter” which is the same small armadillo-like creature from Mül. This is the last of its kind, and someone wants it bad. But Valerian gets into the deal and takes the “converter” before the aliens can buy it for the big ugly beast pirate (voiced by John Goodman). Valerian and Laureline get away, but the danger is just beginning.
But in Alpha, there is a growing danger in the planet-size spaceship-conglomerate. There is an area near the core that has become a dead zone. It is radioactive, and nothing that comes in will ever come back out. If it is not stopped, it could take over everything. General Filitt is now being guarded by Valerian and Laureline. The “converter” creature is being held by Laureline. Mystery beings break into the council chambers and kidnap General Filitt. Valerian gives chase and goes into the dead zone, so they lose contact. Laureline goes to try and find him. She finds Valerian, but soon Laureline gets kidnapped by some ugly monster type creatures.
Valerian finds a place called “Paradise Alley”. He meets Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) who sets him up with a shapeshifting entertainer named Bubble (Rihanna). Bubble agrees to help Valerian find Laureline and get her out. Laureline is being dressed up to attend a fine dinner for the monster king, and is not pleased when she becomes part of the menu. Valerian and Bubble arrive to help her escape. Valerian and Laureline go on to find General Filitt and the mystery creatures that have been making a home in the dead zone.
The visuals created in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” are breath-taking. The various worlds created are amazing and the creatures are fantastic. The ease in which it goes from current time to many centuries into the future is interesting. But then the story gets wrapped up in the job that Valerian and Laureline must do, and it totally bogs down. Any sense of wonder and awe gets disrupted.
The direction is very broad and enveloping, because Luc Besson is caught creating these new worlds. But then the people who fill these worlds start to fail him. Dane DeHaan starts out in smart-alec mode, doing a Keanu Reeves voice over. Cara Delevingne has little personality to make her the smarter and more likable of the two. There is no chemistry between them, and the jokey quips feel too forced.
Clive Owen is a non-impressive bad guy. Ethan Hawke has little more than a cameo. Rihanna is good edition and her story has some pizzazz. Herbie Hancock is an odd choice, but does little more than appear as a concerned face on a screen. John Goodman has few lines in voiceover for a big ugly beast.
The 3D effects are helpful to bring more life to the great production design, but it gets wasted a lot during the long stretches in dark and dreary places. The story and the acting cannot come close to the efforts put into the visual aspects.
Overall, this is fine movie to see if you are a big Luc Besson fan, especially if you liked “The Fifth Element”. If you like a good well-visualized alien world, then go see this. It is a fun little summer popcorn flick, but don’t work your brain too hard by trying to make any sense out of it.