Looks aren’t everything …..
How times change. At last year’s San Diego ComiCon, early footage from Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets received a standing ovation. Now we have the finished film, but it didn’t get a solitary clap from the assembled press corps. Just a queue of people wanting to leave as soon as the credits started rolling.
It’s a film with a sense of occasion: in case you didn’t know, this year is the 50th anniversary of the Valerian comic book series. It also has a liking for big numbers: its budget of EUR 197.47 million ($210 million) makes it the most expensive film ever made in France – by a long way. But that, combined with that initial enthusiastic reception just makes the result an even bigger disappointment.
We’re taken into the 28th century, where Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are government special agents – disappointingly, he’s the more senior of the two – sent to solve the mystery at the centre of Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis. They’re also charged with guarding their Commander (Clive Owen) and rescuing him when he’s kidnapped.
The plot, as you’ve probably guess from that, is the number one problem. Or the lack of one. For the first half hour, the film looks reasonably promising, re-creating a paradise destroyed by a battle between the humans and another civilisation. It looks good and it makes sense. But, with that out of the way, it all descends into a gadget-heavy actionfest with a storyline that’s sometimes all over the place and sometimes just plain non-existent. It becomes all about appearances, with little or nothing of substance underneath.
Clearly DeHaan and Delevigne have been chosen for their looks as well. They’re both impossibly beautiful but any chemistry between them has long drifted into outer space and their characters are written so thinly that neither have a chance to do anything approaching acting. It’s particularly depressing for fans of DeHaan, as this is his second overblown dud this year – remember A Cure For Wellness? – where, yet again, he was cast for his looks and nothing else. He may not be overflowing with talent, but this hasn’t been a good year for him so far.
There’s the distinct impression that Besson knows he’s on to a loser with this one, because he attempts to distract us from the lack of storyline and ho-hum action – with a celebrity cameo. Specifically, Rhianna, as a dancer/performance artiste that catches Valerian’s eye. It doesn’t work. From the moment that she takes on her Sally Bowles guise, complete with bowler hat and chair, it’s patently obvious that she’s just there to put bums on seats and not to deliver anything approximating a performance.
Valerian is one big let-down. It looks good enough – although not as spectacular as you’d be entitled to expect given its budget – but once you get past that first half hour, it’s incoherent and inconsequential. Just bear in mind it lasts 2 hours 15 minutes. That’s a whole lotta tosh.
Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is released in cinemas on 2 August.