What does a brainchild of a sci-fi screenplay writer and director, a charismatic and versatile young actor and an international household name supermodel that actually turns out to be an incredible actress, have in common? Well they, along with the ever jaw-dropping movie magic of NZ’s own WETA Digital have created the expansive eye candy science fiction feast that is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Luc Besson returns to his big love and innate understanding of imaginative sci-fi by jumping on to adapt one of his favourite comic series; Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières’s Valerian and Laureline; and worked together with them to craft the screenplay for this sci-fi epic adventure. Cool casting picks have meant that Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne really do have that first glance authenticity as the series’ iconic characters and Besson has also kept a little of that saucy feel of “here’s what the 1960s thinks the 28th Century will look like” with bright palettes, tiki lounge shirts on our hero and introductory frames viewing the world accompanied by the dulcet tones of the spaceman himself, Mr. David Bowie; and to be fair it’d be rude if you didn’t.
Despite all this sounding like a Guardians of the Galaxy cash-in by Besson; it certainly is not and has more of a Euro-Space sensibility of collaboration among species rather than the sort of Red, White and Blue sense of the Outer-Universe suggested by the GOTG franchise. Besson strides forth in his kind of “I don’t have to explain myself” auteur-ship to bring an excellent 3D experience to our screen that comes with a cheeky sense of humour and wonder too. In great sci-fi and Besson tradition, women are presented as strong characters; however pleasingly not lauded in a cheesy or clichéd way, but depicted in the equality that the sci-fi genre calls for.
Straight out of the gate Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is mesmeric, showing the vast utopian universe and Alpha; with a slew of imaginatively character designed beasts, peculiar aliens, bizarre yet covetable fashion, wacky guns or gadgets and big, beautiful space crafts, all pinballing their way across an expansive space scape that’s been painstakingly born into digital being by the geniuses at WETA Digital in good Ol’ little Wellington, New Zealand. From the dizzying alternate realities world of Big Market to; the multitude of creatures with their stunning and oh-so-touchable facial textures and details, you’re immersed and completely along for the ride, discovering new things and beings around every corner. Plus if there’s any kind of creature that can be fed treasure and then shit out even more treasure…then I want it! (I’m talking the adorable Converter beast…see below)
A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives The Green Goblin and Enchantress, with the help of Marion Crane, must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe; all under the authority of King Arthur and the watchful eye of his officer, Nicks.
Starring of course: Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad), Rihanna (Bates Motel), Clive Owen (King Arthur) and Kris Wu (XXX: The Return of Xander Cage).
It wouldn’t be a fun Luc Besson universe if there wasn’t a few crazy cameos wedged into Valerian… as well, so it’s delightful to see jazz-funk maestro Herbie Hancock, 80s action man Rutger Hauer and Slacker Generation Prince Ethan Hawke; all turning up to add a little whimsy to the colourful and far-fetched Valerian world. Rihanna’s role as Bubble in particular is both alluring and enjoyable; and reminded me faintly of the Michael Jackson Black or White video. True, although the same digital technologies were not used to create the effect; it felt like an intertextual nod considering Rihanna’s recording artist status…or maybe I’m just a big Easter Egg nerd – both are true.
If there’s one tiny aspect that I’m not sure I totally bought into, it was the chemistry between DeHaan and Delevingne as love interests. DeHaan’s Valerian doesn’t literally demonstrate very much wooing or swag during the screen time; but we’re told plenty that he does indeed have it, including a lengthy Playlist of conquests; so we kinda just go with it. Sorry! I dunno, I felt that their chemistry as work colleagues is strong and enjoyable but when it comes to sexual chemistry, maybe a little…meh. I felt like Laureline could have totally kicked Valerian’s butt and stolen anyone’s girl if she wanted too, so perhaps this aspect of their relationship chemistry and attraction will deepen with potential (but unnecessary…) sequels; or perhaps it’s just a demonstration of Valerian being one of those charismatic but bumbling heroes, where his infinitely more skilled and savvy sergeant is always there to save the day and get the shit done, while Valerian stumbles in at the end and scoops the kudos. I’ll make it clear though, that this one part didn’t impede me enjoying the rest of everything I saw so – win!
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is eye-popping, it’s vibrant and it’s an incredibly fun and far-fetched universe, told by arguably one of the greats of modern sci-fi storytelling. Drop the extra couple of bucks and see this in 3D too, this is how I saw it and it really does give everything in Valerian that little additional boost to actualize all the crazy goodness.
Sci-fi fan yourself? Perhaps you’re a knowledgeable Valerian and Laureline comics’ fan that wants to check out what Luc Besson’s done to your baby? Hit me up in the comments below and tell me, what is your favourite sci-fi movie of all time?