The real triumph of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is that it calls to be watched on a giant screen with big sound. This was the luxury afforded to us in the press as the screening made full use of the Ultra AVX theatre. The film gets its message across extremely early, (in fact, before the opening credits even), with a montage showing a handshake of peace in the international space station, first by humans of differing countries and then by humans and all manner of aliens shaking “hands”. The future is friendly and Luc Besson’s adaptation of the comic book series Valerian and Laureline suggests that peace is possible in a time of great division.
Of course, then we cut to a society of pearl gatherers (the whole thing felt a little vaginal), and the society left vulnerable by the threat of war. Of course, in addition to being pearl divers (so to speak), the race is also very androgynous. This vision of terror is actually a lucid dream being experienced by Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) on a virtual beach. He is awoken by his partner in life and work Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who has to rouse him to tell him of a plot that these two special operatives must thwart. It’s quite obvious that there is a history in the comics that we didn’t get to see as Laureline is quite terrified that Valerian will continue his intergalactic playboy ways and she demands a more faithful partner. Of course, the wandering eye isn’t explored in the film, (dude is dating Cara Delevingne, after all), but one has to wonder if this makes for a level of relationship tension that isn’t fully explored. DeHaan and Delevingne are both fine, and we may suspect that these are two living actors that best resemble humanoid creatures in the 28th Century (this is a compliment).
The movie is less a coherent whole than a number of set-pieces, and some are much more effective than others. Obviously, the scene with Bubble (Rihanna) is a standout, although the character of Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke) far less so. This is the case throughout the uneven film, as Clive Owen is given very little to do, (it’s curious to see the Star Wars influences at play here, though), Rutger Hauer comes and goes, Herbie Hancock plays a variant of J.A.R.V.I.S., John Goodman is barely in the film, Elizabeth Debecki is even less in it, and Kris Wu and Sam Spruell get a fair bit of screen time but feel like generic baddies. In truth, the message of “All you Need is Love” plus others of celebrating immigrants and racial, queer and trans tolerance are very admirable but drawn-out from the very beginning.
There is a moment of waiting for a surprise resolution that doesn’t come, and at over two hours, one wonders if Besson couldn’t have made better use of the time. A scene in the red-light district of the future Pleasure Alley could have easily hinted at the magnitude of perversions possible in the future (or the present).