I guess I should have known Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets wasn’t for me when the two stars first appeared onscreen and my first reaction was, “Oh, this must be one of those sci-fi films where the military is staffed by kids.”
Dane DeHaan, who plays Major Valerian, is 31 years old. Cara Delevingne, who portrays Sergeant Laureline, turns 25 next month. The next time the universe needs saving, Hollywood, cast some actors that look like they didn’t just exit some hermetically sealed anti-aging laboratory please.
Is the baby smooth skin of the leads the only problem this film has? Was my hesitation at complete suspension of disbelief due only to a chronic case of crankyoldmanitis? Oh, how I wish! Director Luc Besson attempts to capture lightning in a bottle twice, basically, by trying to remind viewers of his earlier hit The Fifth Element in every possible way just short of casting Chris Tucker to scream at us for an hour again. Adapting the long-running comic series Valerian and Laureline directly, instead of the indirect approach he took with that earlier film, he actually manages to give an official nod to the characters creators this time with a story credit. I suppose the question to ask is: who would want their name associated with this story?
In Valerian, our title character (DeHaan, best known for having failed to be cast in a good role since his breakthrough in 2012’s Chronicle) and his partner in both senses of the word (Delevingne, going for the world record here for Most Emoting Through Eyerolling) are military officers in the 28th century, charged with keeping order throughout the human colonies. Catching some rays during vacation in a holographic locale, Valerian’s nap is disturbed by the visions of a utopian planet being destroyed through a mysterious attack. The few surviving inhabitants of the planet soon make themselves known to the Major during an assignment to Alpha, a city that has been used for centuries by nearly all life throughout space to share knowledge and skill with each other. Soon the pair of space soldiers are dodging dangers from throughout the galaxy while trying to unravel the mystery of the unprovoked assault that someone is trying to keep buried.
I suppose the first sign that trouble was afoot in the making of this film could have been when everyone involved kept praising the special effects involved in making the movie, while the acting went unremarked upon. While there is good reason in trying to keep attention away from the master thespians involved in the film, the visuals aren’t exactly anything to write home about either. The scenes featuring the peaceful planet before its destruction reminded me of the cut scenes featured in video games circa the early 21st century. Hell, for some scenes I’d go back even further, to the days when computer game releases like Myst made gamers say, “Story isn’t important, look at how purty it is!” And pretty Valerian is, in certain moments, but by and large it feels like a direct-to-Redbox ripoff of Avatar.
It’s obvious that Besson wanted the film to feature the same action and excitement that he felt from the comic when he was younger, but what he saw in his mind as exhilarating lands on the screen in a pile of hammy ploddingness. When your film relies heavily on the charisma of Cara Delevingne to carry it, the ball wasn’t just dropped, it imploded before hitting the floor.