Nostalgia can kill a film. Sometimes a director can be too close to the material it can blind them to what issues they may have as they are being turned into a film. I can think of a few like “Superman Returns”, “Crimson Peak”, and “Yoga Hosers”. Directors that hold the material in such high regard whether it’s a book, genre, or even another film series. When they become beholden to what they intend to honor, they can lose their way. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a french comic book from the late 60’s that director Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element) has been wanting to adapt to film for years and years. Now that technology has caught up to his imagination he is ready to go back into space.
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are partners and work as special operatives taking part in dangerous missions throughout the galaxy. They can sneak into places to retrieve stolen items and then blast their way out, with graceful ease. When they are summoned to Alpha, a massive metropolis housing most of the known alien species across the galaxy, the pair have to uncover a threat to their commander (Clive Owen) and the city. One that may also lead to the possible destruction of the entire universe as they know it.
I’ll start with the good, which is mostly in the visuals, which border from great to stunning. There is a scene early on in a multi-dimensional market than is crazy cool. The creature designs and likeness are rendered really well and some of the action set pieces have that Besson kinetic energy. Where it shined for me was in the goofier moments, with the introduction and use of Rihanna’s character Bubble along with her pimp, an almost unrecognizable but brilliant Ethan Hawke.
What didn’t work for me was almost everything else. The script penned by Besson is filled with bad screenwriting 101, characters give the clunkiest exposition, there is little to no motivation between the main cast, and as simple the story actually is, it manages to become very convoluted and overly complicated. The over 2 hour running time allows the film to meander to the point of boredom, which leads to tiredness. By the time the film concluded I didn’t really know who wanted what anymore, nor did I care.
I remember after watching Besson’s last film “Lucy” I was thinking he had lost his magical touch that gave us true classics like “The Professional” and “The Fifth Element”. There are almost no echoes of those films here, it’s a space opera with no substance, and it doesn’t help that the dialogue DeHaan and Delevingne have to force out is the most bland and ridiculous I’ve heard in quite a while. In a lot of ways this film reminded me of another French comic turned into a film, “The Adventures of Tintin”, again visually incredible, but weak character development and a forgettable storyline, and way too long.
In the end I feel really bad because I wanted to love this movie, and even though Besson loves it more than me and has for decades, I believe with “Valerian” he is the victim of his own nostalgia.