Luc Besson’s dream project is finally here! While it does not crash and burn, it fails to reach its promised heights.
The long wait has finally come to an end – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is finally here! The hype over the movie’s phenomenal visual was seriously boosted thanks to the various trailers for the movie, not to mention the connection with Besson’s The Fifth Element. And to make a long story short, ‘Valerian’ is a beautiful movie. It is also immensely enjoyable, especially in 3D in an IMAX theatre. In many respects, it’s what James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ should have been but wasn’t.
Also, despite the age of the original material the movie is inspired by – a 1960s comic book series, by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, Besson did manage to adapt it well to today’s day and age. I have to give him that. After a long draught in sci-fi movies, in which only a handful of movies were made to satiate the thirsts of the genre’s enthusiasts, Besson’s sci-fi extravaganza is very welcome. With all due respect to old-timer franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars, it is high time audiences get something new, even if it’s actualy old (see Guardians of the Galaxy for another good example).
That said, it’s hard to decide what to make of Besson’s dream-project. While the renowned film maker did manage take movie visuals a step further, and while his trademark designs stand out in their beauty, there’s also something very wrong with it all. We get it, ‘Valerian’ is the origin which inspired almost every famous sci-fi franchise we’ve come to love over the past decades. That said, while the French comic was in cryogenic sleep, those offshoot franchises have been very busy. Therefore, for the most part, Besson’s love-project mostly reminded me of a plethora of other movies, from Star Wars to Blade Runner to Guardians of the Galaxy with even a couple of Harry Potter moments thrown into the mix. In other words – while most of us haven’t been familiar with ‘Valerian’ up until news of the movie started spreading, we’ve already seen it all.
Another thing which didn’t help the movie is the problematic casting. I’ll say loud and I’ll say it proud – I LOVE Dane DeHaan. He is one of the most underappreciated actors in Hollywood today. That said, he is also a horrible casting choice as the movie’s lead role – Valerian. While DeHaan looks great in the trailers, this is before the audience understands that Valerian and Laureline are not some teenage heroes, but a couple of adult special-ops agents.
While 24 years-old Cara Delevingne does manage to pass for an adult sexualized figure, 31 years-old DeHaan does not even remotely pass for the uber-manly, heroic and feminizing special agent Valerian supposedly should be. Not that there is anything wrong with being a manchild – sure is a better look than fat, bald, hairy and slouchy – but seeing DeHaan’s baby-tummy and virtually non-existent chest and shoulders, just ruins any chance of him being considered as an action hero.
Don’t get me wrong – DeHaan does the best he can with what he’s got. But he’s just completely out of his waters in this role, and this is further highlighted whenever he is shown outside of his armor or uniform.
As I have mentioned earlier, Delevingne just looks better equipped for her role and so passes much better in it than Dehaan does in his. She simply looks much more of a badass than her partner, and that makes things even more frustrating, because she is not in the lead, and her character supposedly has an inexplicable crush on Valerian. This calls to mind what I think of as the “Hermione-Ron syndrome”: a cinematic relationship, in which the average viewer—and especially female viewer—cannot, for the life of her, understand why does the heroine even bother with her designated love interest, when she is so clearly superior to him in any conceivable way?
So while the audience can believe Besson’s aliens and a city of a thousand planets making its way in the vast reaches of the galaxy, Valerian and Laureline’s romance is simply too much suspension of disbelief. There is literally NO chemistry at all between Dehaan and Delevingne! No sexual tension, no desire, no love in the romantic sense. Nothing! Zilch! Nada! They would be more believable as teenage brother and sister than anything else. If anything, had the two agents been brother and sister, it would have made such a fundamental part of the plot (as much as there is of it to speak of) so cringingly sexist.
But even the casting has its bright spots in the form of Clive Owen, who plays Commander Arün, and Rihanna, who (I didn’t think I was going to say it) simply shines in her role as a stripper called Bubble. While Owen and Rihanna don’t get much screen time, when they’re on, they help carry the weight of the hulking mass of the movie. Not so lucky is Ethan Hawke, who is utterly and completely wasted in his two-minute stint as Jolly the pimp.
Finally, movies don’t come out without a certain context. And in a time when even Disney started to understand that the old damsel in distress doesn’t cut it anymore; in a time when, finally, a woman can proudly stand at the center of a tentpole big budget movie, there is something awkward and backward about a movie in which everything is futuristic accept for its treatment of female roles.