By Laurie Coker
Two hours and seventeen minutes – a lifetime in a theater seat – even watching exceptional CGI and astonishingly vivid imagery. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an energetic, extravagant, and overall a decent experience particularly for ‘tweens and teens. Unfortunately, however, too many parts of the movie simply don’t work. Director/writer Luc Besson offers up an explosion of color and a stunning sci-fi city, but his dialogue and lackluster performances make its runtime seemingly interminable.
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) work together as a team of special operatives, but there are love sparks too. Their job centers around maintaining order and law throughout the human territories in a city made up of many, many alien societies. The film opens with them attempting to recover a stolen item and the pair moves into an assignment from the Minister of Defense (Herbie Hancock). The mystery, at which center lies a dark force known as Alpha, not only threatens the City of a Thousand Planets, it also involves a race of peaceful beings who only barely survived a human caused catastrophic event on their planet.
Clearly, Besson attempts to offer up many timely themes, but his story lacks freshness and the delivery of it is anemic. Clive Owen, as Commander Arün Filitt, appears stiff and frankly uncomfortable or perhaps bored in this role. He’s hardly the actor he has proven himself to be. Perhaps this is in part because the film’s leads aren’t very good in their roles. Delevingne, a super model by trade, does far better that DeHaan who doesn’t embody a titular level hero. He is more suited to a brooding villain than a swashbuckling hero. In fairness, the pair does finally get into a bit of a rhythm before too long.
The best and most entertaining portion of the film comes from Ethan Hawk as Jolly the Pimp and stripper/alien Bubbles, played vivaciously and arousingly by Rihanna. She does a quick-change dance that surely will please the males in the audience – sexy and fascinating and far too brief. More time with this lively pair and less time on showiness would have made the time more tolerable. Hawk delights! He’s funny, quirky, witty and weird.
The film itself is a psychedelic, spray of color that would have been a real trip in the sixties. Besson has created a phenomenal universe and impressive CGI beings that outshine almost all the human stars, but this rainbow of color hardly goes down as easily as a bag of sugary Skittles. Even with all the three-dimensional imagery and mind-blowing set pieces the TWO HOURS and SEVENTEEN minutes move at a glacial pace no matter how you paint it.
A co-write might have helped Besson – him staying at the helm and another polishing up the dialogue and plotline, giving the human star more with which to work. As it is, little will appeal to most post-teen folks. Giving Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets more than a C is impossible. As noted ‘tweens and teens will most likely find pleasure in the adventure. Older than that – well … I recommend a travel pillow.