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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets movie review: All that glitters isn’t Cara Delevingne

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets movie review: Luc Besson’s visually dazzling passion project can’t take flight, despite a game Cara Delevingne, and occasional Bhangra music.

movie-reviews Updated: Aug 11, 2017 10:16 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
The hugely-miscast Dane DeHaan takes away from Cara Delevingne’s chipper performance.
The hugely-miscast Dane DeHaan takes away from Cara Delevingne’s chipper performance.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Director - Luc Besson
Cast - Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna
Rating - 1/5

A spectre looms over Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. When everything is said and done, and Luc Besson has stubbed out his last cigarette, forced to vacate the table he has occupied for six hours at a lonely Parisian café where he has been smoking away his sorrows, we will know that his new film is one of those legendary box office bombs – the sort of film that’s written about for years to come, and spoken about only in hushed tones.

Like Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger and The Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, and Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending – they really are having a terrible time – it will go down in the history of cinema as one of the most staggeringly ambitious failures of the new millennium.

But let’s not hold that against the film, shall we?


From its opening couple of scenes, when David Bowie plays over lavish shots of space, it is quite clear that Besson is attempting to recreate the success of his calling card movie, The Fifth Element, and the two Guardians of the Galaxy films. Whether or not this was done retroactively is up for debate.

A thoroughly miscast Dane DeHaan – who is usually better suited to play meek, psychologically hurt misfits, but here, Besson has cast him an intergalactic rake – plays Valerian. A refreshingly-chipper Cara Delevingne plays his partner, Laureline, who, in a sexist turn of events, has been omitted from the film’s title, and spends most of her time shutting down his creepy advances. Together, they are inter-dimensional secret agents trying to get to the bottom of an inter-dimensional smuggling operation which involves pearls pooped by a half-raccoon-half-anteater type creature.

Besson structures the film in such an odd manner that every scene appears to exist in its own, separate movie. The immensely-detailed world-building doesn’t help. As Valerian and Laureline jump from one dimension to another – it could be a seaside paradise, or an underwater kingdom populated by monsters – the empty sights and the sounds become tremendously overwhelming. For a film which routinely forces its characters to spout expositional dialogue – THE Herbie Hancock has a thankless cameo – it’s nearly impossible to follow, and has no memorable characters, even the one who gave it its title.


But for all his visual inventiveness – the glistening alien creatures with long necks, the trio of duck-like comic relief idiots, and a Jabba the Hutt clone who sounds an awful lot like John Goodman – Besson’s film can’t hide the fact that he probably wrote it left-handed and under the influence of some military-grade banned substance.

There is, however, a brief respite from the maddening assault you could look forward to. About an hour into the film, Besson pauses the story and forces you to gawk at a shape-shifting Rihanna prancing about on a stripper’s pole, while a bejewelled cowboy played by Ethan Hawke cackles in the background.


In all honesty, the fact that this movie turned out to be a colossal mess shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Besson’s recent output, considering especially how rapidly he churns it out, has been rather hit-or-miss. He hasn’t made a particularly enjoyable film since 2010’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a film towards which I am slightly biased because it had shades of the Adventures of Tintin, a series I am immensely fond of.

He followed it up with a trio of movies that could only be described as Bessonian – the Aung San Suu Kyi biopic, The Lady; the Robert De Niro Mafia family comedy, The Family; and the sci-fi thriller, Lucy, his highest-grossing film yet.

For Valerian, he plundered yet another cult Franco-Belgian comic – Valerian and Laureline. It is a comic book series that I have had the displeasure of reading, and suffice it to say, you need not be familiar with its particularly bizarre vision of the future before watching the film.


The story behind how he got it made promises to be more interesting than the film itself. It’s a miracle, really, how he conned people into giving him $200 million to barf out the fever dream he’s been having for two decades. If the credits are to be believed, he even managed to get a bank involved – BNP Paribas is listed as one of the 15-20 production companies behind Valerian.

Perhaps this could be Valerian and Laureline’s next adventure. They wouldn’t even have to leave Earth, and Dane DeHaan could probably be back home sipping Mai Tais by sundown.

Follow @htshowbiz for more
The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Jul 28, 2017 13:14 IST

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