Luc Besson’s previous films are an eclectic bunch to say the least: Leon is a superb, dark, and heartwarming at times; The Fifth Element hits you with a wondrous and totally weird universe but backs it up with some great acting and characters; Lucy is a great premise but falls short of what it takes to be a proper action/thriller. Besson’s use of world cinema stars is also to be commended, giving them a little bit more exposure than they would otherwise. I don’t think Jean Reno would have been quite as well known if it wasn’t for his role as Leon.
And so onto his latest film: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The production value is evident in the look and feel of the film (around $200 million, noted as the most expensive indie and European film ever!) and the cast are there too: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, and a couple of cameo’s from the superb Ethan Hawke and Rihanna. I’m not sure there is a story in there too although it isn’t evident in the film. It puts all the pieces into place for the plot then completely leaves it behind for most of the film only picking it back up again, vaguely, near the end.
There are some interesting moments dotted throughout, some exciting action sequences and a few nice ideas but just putting them together in a mish-mash format does not a film make. Much like Alpha, the ageing International Space Station that has grown and grown by adding bits on here and there from all over the universe, the film darts here and there, spectacle to spectacle, adding pieces together in no real order, having no real direction and ends being a big amorphous thing. That is this film. The actual beginning of the film, in the Big Market, which was an interesting take on alternate universes/shared spaces (much like the superb The City and The City by China Mieville), provided one of the best sequences in the whole film but it was left behind for more tried and tested action and adventure. Too little of the wondrous environment was seen and explored (we get a very short blitz through the different sections of Alpha, which we all got a nice explanation of when the two agents return back tothe space station after their Big Market heist/recovery).
Dehaan as Valerian and Delevingne as Laureline do their best to carry this film, being in pretty much every scene between them, they both are fully committed to their roles and I thought they did well with what they had, this is the best I’ve seen Delevingne although the number of films I’ve seen her in is quite limited. Clive Owen (Commander Filitt) is a spent force, neither the passion/fire that he had in abundance with Children of Men/Sin City/Inside Man era. It is hard to rate the rest of the cast as they are mostly products of special effects.
On the main topic of the film (at least I think it was) encapsulating the extermination or wiping out of an indigenous species (who facially looked rather like that other indigenous species that got wiped out/taken for granted by an ignorant human race: the Na’vi). This felt like a pretty heavy handed handling of a pretty serious topic and no amount of space glitter and sparkle is going to make it any less obvious. Another film telling us that we are too stuck up our own arses, care too little about other species and races and only think about ourselves, thinking we’re the greatest thing in the universe, even after we realise that we aren’t alone in the universe any more.
The special effects were pretty good, the different species were suitably varied and looked realistic at times, the landscapes were grand and sometimes spectacular and at others basic. The costumes weren’t as great as the work done by Jean-Paul Gaultier in The Fifth Element but were pretty stylish and worked for the most part. The score was a little bit in your face with nothing subtle about it, and much like the rest of the film there is no nuance to the proceedings.
I don’t like panning films, but this was dire. It was way too long and it was way too vague to be considered anything like a decent story and no amount of special special-effects is going to claw it back to even an average rating. I tried, honestly I did: I tried to think about Besson’s style and his other films; I tried to envisage how this will look years down the line and whether it will have that cult-ish status like The Fifth Element now does; about whether it will be something considered better than it was received; about whether it will spawn a raft of sequels. Alas, it still didn’t make any difference.