"Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets"
Release Date: July 21, 2017
Running Time: 137 minutes
Don’t be fooled by the title of writer/director Luc Besson’s first sci-fi epic since he wowed us with 1997’s The Fifth Element. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets isn’t a solo act by any means. Based on the French comic-book series Valérian and Laureline, The City of a Thousand Planets introduces us to not one but two 28th-century intergalactic spies who are charged with investigating a dire threat to a gigantic, constantly expanding manufactured space metropolis that serves as a home to both human and alien. Dane DeHaan’s Valerian and Cara Delevinge’s Laureline are mostly treated as equals by Besson in The City of a Thousand Planets so it makes little sense that “Laureline” has been dropped from the film’s title. An argument could be made that the title wouldn’t be as snappy with the inclusion of “Laureline. But her exclusion isn’t just sexist—it creates the impression that her participation in The City of a Thousand Planets isn’t as important as that of Valerian. This certainly isn’t the case. Valérian and Laureline are partners in everything except love, which the former wants to change. DeHaan’s Valerian is your archetypal space cowboy who firmly believes in breaking the rules in order to uphold the law. Delevinge’s tough-as-nails and no-nonsense Laureline keeps Valerian in check while trying to think her way out of dangerous situations. Valerian and Laureline appear to be modeled on Han Solo and Princess Leia, respectively. DeHaan tries a little too hard to exude Harrison Ford-ish charm and charisma but he manages to win us over with his energy and enthusiasm. Delevinge is relatively more grounded as Laureline but no less impressive in battle. She brings a teasing standoffishness to the moments when Valerian unprofessionally bombards Laureline with marriage proposals. We realize quickly that Laureline possesses similar feelings for Valerian but she needs him to prove he’s interested in her for who she is and not what she represents. There is chemistry between DeHaan and Delevinge, so the will-they-won’t-they? subplot helps draw us to Valérian and Laureline. When they aren’t engaged in playful banter, DeHaan and Delevinge find themselves trying to escape death in a world that is an imaginative as anything Besson whisked us off to in The Fifth Element. Alpha, the so-called the city of a thousand planet, is a marvelously construct that features millions of alien species living together—but in four separate quadrants—in harmony for the most part. Besson seamlessly integrates the various environments of Alpha into the narrative, with the best sequence set in an underworld territory that is home to giant dinosaur-like creatures. This monument to human-alien relations allows Besson to craft an opening that brims with so much optimism for a peaceful coexistence for centuries to come that it’s inconceivable that anyone would want to destroy it. The answer lies with an alien race that’s been wiped from memory and a human villain whose rationale for his actions are truly Trumpian in nature. Besson offers many fun and cool action set-pieces, from a chase set in a market that occupies two dimensions to a fight in a banquet hall that results in a tragic and possibly unnecessary death. He also introduces us to many alien species, though their originality is up for debate. The noble race that drives The City of a Thousand Planets’ narrative hails from the beach equivalent of Avatar’s Pandora. The John Goodman-voiced pirate captain is Jabba the Hut by any other name. The shapeshifting Bubble feels too familiar for comfort—she’s like The X-Men’s Mystique gone Jell-O—but Rhianna imbues her with the perfect mix of glamour, empathy and insecurity. Even a squad of killer robots look like they are based on The Black Hole’s Maximilian. The strangest character in The City of a Thousand Planets isn’t alien—it’s Ethan Hawke’s shady club operator. He is so uncharacteristically “out there” for his hilarious extended cameo that you have to wonder whether he’s under the influence of an amazing drug of alien origin. Hawke, though, isn’t out of place in a film that as is colorful and alluring as the city it is set in. The City of a Thousand Planets may not be a visionary sci-fi masterpiece on the scale of The Fifth Element, but it is a visual treat that revels in its unique cityscapes and exotic alien species. It also displays a deep affection for its two young heroes. More important, Besson’s fascination with Alpha never comes at the expense of Valérian and Laureline. While DeHaan and Delevingne still need to grow into their roles, Valérian and Laureline make for intriguing partners who are deserving of their own franchise. With equal billing, of course.
Aired: July 20, 2017