Movie review: Besson delivers a visionary, vibrant 'Valerian'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jul 24 2017 12:51 PM

Aside from his action classics "Nikita" (1990) and "Leon: The Professional" (1994), French director Luc Besson is also known for his stylish science fiction films like "The Fifth Element" (1997) and "Lucy" (2014). 

In ''Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," he chose to bring to life a French science-fiction comics series "Valerian and Laureline," which was published from 1967- 2010. 

Beginning in 1975, people from Earth started a space station Alpha to coexist and cooperate in mutual exchange of knowledge. With the succeeding years and centuries, beings from other planets joined in, until this space station housed most of the known interplanetary races of the whole universe, making Alpha the titular "City of a Thousand Planet." The main story is set in the 28th century.

Successful with their latest mission, human police agent Major Valerian and his partner Sgt. Laureline have brought back into Alpha a rare and invaluable little creature called a "Converter." While they were there, their superior officer Commander Filitt was abducted by a group of human-like creatures with pearly complexion (whom Valerian had previously seen in a vivid dream). Valerian and Laureline, who had earlier been tasked to secure the Commander, go in hot pursuit, even into dangerous red zone, to bring him back.

I recognized Dane DeHaan from his role as Harry Osborne in Andrew Garfield's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Delevingne I knew as a model before, but this is the first time I've seen her act in a major role. Frankly, it took some time for me to accept them as heroes Valerian and Laureline because of their juvenile and petty behavior when they were first introduced. The dialog between these two really verged on B-flick cheesy, campy and corny. DeHaan also did not have the wow-factor star power Taron Egerton or Tom Holland had in their big-time lead debuts.

Clive Owen was not exactly subtle in his portrayal of Commander Filitt. Ethan Hawke had fun playing a naughty pimp in the red-light district Paradise Alley. Sam Spruell did not really look that convincing as General Okto-Bar, but that helped add some suspense. Chinese-Canadian actor Kris Wu, formerly of South Korean pop group EXO, had a notable role as Capt. Neza, close aide of the general. 

The most remarkable supporting performance was that by pop superstar Rihanna, who played a shape-shifting alien entertainer named Bubbles. At first I thought all she would do was that pole-dancing song number done for Valerian's entertainment. However, her character would go on to do more significant scenes after that, making this a key role.

The best thing about this film are its spectacular visuals. I marveled at the richly inventive futuristic graphic designs that I saw flood the screen during its entire 137 minutes running time. These include the unique alien creatures of all shapes and sizes (from cute to monstrous), the ultra-high technological advances in gadgets and weaponry, the absurdly over-the-top costumes and makeup of the various characters, and the colorful kaleidoscopic sights of alien planets and cities. 

The trailer was not too flattering in my opinion. I definitely liked the whole film better, and I am glad I did not let the trailer discourage me from watching. The plot may have plenty of cliches and the bad guy may have been obvious from the get go, but overall, the film was very entertaining. The artistic vision of its highly creative artists and artisans are to be highly commended for the brand new world they whipped up for us from their imagination. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."