Movie Review – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
It could be argued this film is a spiritual sequel to The Fifth Element (1997), the futuristic, sci-fi flick most associated with Luc Besson, the weird French filmmaker, but a lot has happened in the 20 years since that film came out. In that time, the Star Wars prequel-trilogy was released, as well as more installments in George Lucas’ highly beloved franchise. Also, in that time, James Cameron’s Avatar has been released, as well as a reboot trilogy of Star Trek, which also hit the silver screen, so when it comes to fun, space adventures, those have been the big players. For this film, it seems Besson has taken all those fun, space adventures, threw them into a pot and spewed out this movie.
Like Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), the movie begins with an Earth vessel venturing out into deep space and growing in size as it collects other things in the galaxy. Like Avatar (2009), the whole thing revolves around slender, blue-ish aliens (pictured above) that promote a simplistic and environmental life. Like Star Wars, there’s a sexy hotshot who gallivants across the stars on the run from notorious characters. Instead of being called Han Solo, here the hotshot is called Valerian.
Dane DeHaan (Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2) stars as Valerian, not quite the outlaw that Han Solo is. He’s a major in a military organization that seems similar to the one depicted in Star Trek (2009). He commands an artificially-intelligent spaceship that is very reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. The ship also has a room similar to the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but, like the Millennium Falcon, the ship called Alex has a crew of only two people.
Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad and Paper Towns) co-stars as Laureline, a sergeant in the same organization as Valerian. In fact, she’s the other crew member on board Alex. She’s very much the Leia of this story and a little bit of Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens mixed in for good measure. She’s a very good officer and very serious about her job and her missions.
As Valerian and Laureline travel through space, they bicker about the future of their romance. It’s not as good as the banter between Han Solo and Leia. This has somewhat to do with the casting as anything else. Delevingne is certainly no Carrie Fisher, but she holds her own and could possibly get there. DeHaan is a good actor, and I appreciate him in this role because it’s not the obvious choice, but his character is a self-proclaimed lady-killer, and I just didn’t buy it.
Some have compared DeHaan to a young Leonardo DiCaprio and I’ll admit there are some similarities. Yet, I don’t think I would ever really confuse the two. DeHaan can exude a kind of confidence and charm that works in some films, but he’s not the heartthrob that DiCaprio is. DiCaprio has never been a hunk in that way that people think hunks are today. DiCaprio instead has sex appeal that echoes back to classic Hollywood, a suaveness that’s old world but natural, and just boyishly handsome beyond reason.
That special magic of attractiveness, whatever it is that DiCaprio has, DeHaan doesn’t, or it’s not the same. It’s certainly not the same as Harrison Ford who embodied Han Solo 40 years ago with the same suaveness that is required, the same sex appeal.
This film is an adaptation of an influential, French comic book, first published in the 1960’s, and I get the impulse not to hire another actor like all the other actors hired to lead a comic book adaptation. Given the dominant, comic-book adaptations have been the Marvel and DC Comics, I get the impulse to reject the muscle-bound beefcake, something out of Greek mythology, a god-like, tall, statuesque, manly man.
Yet, Besson went completely in the opposite direction and hired a scrawny, practical, stick figure as his action hero. I just don’t see posters of DeHaan going on many people’s walls as some kind of matinee idol. It’s not necessarily his body-type because actors like Freddie Highmore and Nicholas Hoult are skinny guys, but both of them have a beauty to them that goes beyond the superficial but sometimes the superficial helps.
Kris Wu has a small but crucial role in this movie as Captain Neza, an officer at the Alpha, an intergalactic space station that’s a cross between Yorktown in Star Trek Beyond (2016) and the city of Zootopia in Zootopia (2016), except it’s a place where hundreds of species of aliens live, including humans. Kris Wu is a Chinese pop star and is quickly rising as a movie star in China. He’s also become an international model. No one can doubt his appeal. If it were up to me, Kris Wu would have been cast as Valerian over DeHaan.
That being said, this is an entertaining action flick. Its action scenes are energetic and fun. A lot of it comes across as very much like a video game but in colorful, inventive and engaging ways. It’s almost in the vein of Jupiter Ascending (2015), but not as unbelievable.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 17 mins.