Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

****

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets
"A film that from its outset immerses you totally in the world of city Alpha, as well as the humans and aliens that throng its crowded streets."

Great film. Shame about the title, which will likely be the final straw in the (short-term) demise of Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. Though on the plus side, look forward to its return in the next few years as minor cult classic: the sort of film that plays over and over on the sci-fi/fantasy circuit, before finally metamorphosing into mainstay of late night Sky and Film4.

But oh, that title! Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets simply screams comic book. Alongside Asterix And The Golden Sickle, Tintin And The Secret Of The Unicorn; or pretty much Anyone And The Anything Of Anything.

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Cartoon. Kid’s stuff. You might get away with it if your film happens to be about Asterix or Tintin, less so where the focus is on two characters – Valerian and Laureline – of whose existence the Anglo-Saxon world was 99.9 per cent ignorant before this film debuted in August 2017.

That's a shame. Because this is Luc Besson – not quite at his best – but going once more round the directorial block, with style. And if, as I have been for more years than I dare remember, you are a fan of bédé (that’s bande dessinée, aka French comic books), you’ll know that this crime-fighting duo are up there with Batman and Robin, as major influences not just on the French scene, but more widely on films such as Star Wars and The Fifth Element. And they've been going since 1967.

So much so that artist Jean-Claude Mézières gently mocked the similarities between the Star Wars and the Valerian/Laureline universes in a 1983 cartoon. Valerian and Laureline bump into Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in a bar: “Fancy meeting you here”, observes Leia. “Oh, we’ve been here for ages”, replies Laureline.

Meow!!!

The comic book also influenced development of The Fifth Element – though Besson disputes precisely how much.

This latest oeuvre reprises that film, with the added advantage that film tech and special effects are now some 20 years further on. The result is a film that, from its outset, immerses you totally in the world of Alpha City, as well as the humans and aliens that throng its crowded streets.

And if it lacks the louche badassness of Bruce Willis and isn’t quite as full-on funny as its precursor, it doesn’t fall far short.

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are two “spatio-temporal” law officers tasked with recovering exotic stolen goods. After a preliminary skirmish with outlaws led by the corpulent Igon Siruss (John Goodman), they return them to Alpha City, where Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) informs them of another crisis brewing: a dark zone at the heart of the city, fatal to all local life forms; and it is growing, will shortly destroy the city itself.

Oooer! Except, our heroes smell a rat, disobey orders, and eventually uncover a secret so dark that all human endeavour is, for a time, in question.

Besson does not do things by halves.

And even if you reckon you’ve heard this plot a thousand times before, the beauty is in the execution. From the sparky, wise-cracking relationship between Valerian and Laureline, to the in-your-face quirkiness of the worlds into which you are drawn: “it’s life, Jim: but not as we know it!”.

Because, while you might imagine that alien-diversity-in-a-bar began with Star Wars – or possibly Star Trek – this is where it really started.

There is also humour. A scene where Laureline believes herself captured, Leia-style, to satisfy the lusts of a gross alien emperor; only to discover, as he anoints her body with fresh lemon juice, that she is in fact plat du jour. And there is a return to themes and tropes that fans of The Fifth Element will recognise. The primacy of love as a driving force across the universe - an entire people, who, even after the near genocide of their race, still believe in peace and forgiveness.

Add the heroic, shape-shifting Bubble (Rihanna), who, echoing the role of Diva Plavalaguna in The Fifth Element, interjects a touch of bathos into the proceedings.

Valerian is flawed, self-absorbed, sexist male, but has a playlist of redeeming features that develop with the movie. Laureline is just brilliant: another strong, kickass female hero of the sort we have been seeing much more of lately.

Practical, too. How can Valerian prove his love for her? “You don’t have to die for me, you just have to trust me.”

And of course, Laureline got there first, decades before the current crop of action women. It’s just that, as she's French, the chances are you never heard of her before now.

There is fast-paced, intense action and – trademark Besson – guns. Plenty of guns.

As for “quirky”. Mais, naturellement!? As always, with Besson, there is, lurking just below the surface, a disturbingly alien eroticism: something out of the ordinary, so deeply buried that the censors fail to notice and nod it through with a safe 12A.

The music is a fine combination of original score and classic tracks. And any film that opens with the entirety of Bowie masterpiece Space Oddity has much to recommend it.



Many thanks to the independent Broadway Cinema Letchworth, without which this review would not have been possible.

Reviewed on: 12 Aug 2017
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Two special operatives go on a mission to Alpha, where species from across the galaxy meet to share knowledge, and where an evil force is gathering its strength.

Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson, basic on the comic book by Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Rutger Hauer, Peter Hudson, Xavier Giannoli, Louis Leterrier, Eric Rochant, Benoît Jacquot

Year: 2017

Runtime: 137 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: France

Festivals:

Fantasia 2017

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