Com­plete, outer space balls-up

After a promis­ing start, Luc Bes­son’s big, silly spec­ta­cle plum­mets re­morse­lessly into atro­cious­ness, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOU­SAND PLANETS ★★ Di­rected by Luc Bes­son. Star­ring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delev­ingne, Clive Owen, Ri­hanna, Ethan Hawke, Her­bie Han­cock, Kris Wu, Rut­ger Hauer. Cert 12A, gen re­lease, 137mins We so wanted to get be­hind Luc Bes­son’s big, silly spec­ta­cle. Shout­ing out for orig­i­nal science fic­tion, in this age of jug­ger­naut fran­chises, is like sup­port­ing lo­cal shops and na­tive pro­duce. And Lucy was fun, right? Un­hap­pily, no film since

Watch­men has started so well only to plum­met so re­morse­lessly into atro­cious­ness and te­dium.

What a lovely over­ture, though. David Bowie’s Space

Odyssey plays as the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion evolves, over cen­turies, into an in­ter­ga­lac­tic United Na­tions, pop­u­lated by thou­sands of ex­tra-ter­res­trial species, and fi­nally re­quir­ing new digs away from low Earth or­bit.

And now the bad news. We cut to fake Avatar planet, where a race of sparkly ema­ci­ated su­per­mod­els live in har­mony with their pearl-poop­ing multi-coloured pet ar­madil­los. Sud­denly, the sky dark­ens and their trop­i­cal par­adise is de­stroyed by war cruis­ers. And another cut: this was all but a dream for the ti­tle char­ac­ter, (Dane DeHaan, a tal­ented ac­tor, sadly head­ing a sec­ond ma­jor box of­fice bomb). Or was it? When Ma­jor Valerian is sent on a vir­tual-re­al­ity mis­sion into a vir­tual mar­ket place that looks aw­fully like vir­tual Ta­tooine – pay at­ten­tion down the back – he en­coun­ters some of the sparkly su­per­model folk and re­trieves one of their ar­madil­los from fake Jabba the Hut. Whither “orig­i­nal sci-fi”? And then there’s a con­spir­acy, a lot of chas­ing through mean­ing­less dig­i­tal land­scapes, and ap­palling (pre­sum­ably Google-trans­lated) at­tempts at screw­ball di­a­logue. “All of you Ivy League types love a bad boy like me,” Valerian pa­tiently ex­plains to his fe­male sergeant Lau­re­line (Cara Delev­ingne), be­tween re­peated mar­riage pro­pos­als. We’re told that Valerian and

Lau­re­line, the orig­i­nal Six­ties sci-fi comic, fea­tured a red-headed proto-fem­i­nist. She’s nowhere to be found in Luc Bes­son’s $200 mil­lion flop. Delev­ingne’s Lau­re­line is not only blonde-washed, and fre­quently in swimwear (or a space suit with breasts), she’s a walk­ing se­ries of an­cient, sex­ist punch­lines.

We’re scarcely 10 min­utes in be­fore we’re crack­ing wise about her driv­ing. Later, when mup­pety space sta­tion spies sigh: “You hu­mans are so pre­dictable”, she re­sponds with stomp of her feet. “You’ve clearly never met a woman”. Ooh, kitty’s got claws, etc.

And just when you think things can’t get any more sex­u­ally ret­ro­grade, blink and you’ll miss Ri­hanna. Although that might be just as well. The pop star plays a shape-shifting

“glam­pod”, who, hav­ing mem­o­rised the col­lec­tive works of Shake­speare and Ver­laine, hopes to become “the world’s great­est artist”. For a fe­male that can only mean one thing: the medium of pole dance. Yes. Re­ally.

Other fleet­ing cameos – Clive Owen’s plainly evil gen­eral, Ethan Hawke’s pimp – pad out the over-ex­tended run-time. There have been many com­par­isons with Bes­son’s ear­lier and su­pe­rior 1997 space panto The Fifth

El­e­ment, the film he ended up mak­ing when he first pon­dered adapt­ing Valerian and Laure

line. But, for all its tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, Valerian and the City of a Thou­sand Planets can’t com­pete with Bruce Wil­lis and Milla Jovovich for charisma, nor with Jean Paul Gaultier’s cos­tumes.

The Fifth El­e­ment was all kinds of camp, but we un­der­stood its ex­tremely loud uni­verse. Even by its own lu­di­crous, grav­ity-free, un­canny-val­ley logic, Valerian is where con­ti­nu­ity comes to die. Hav­ing been in­formed around 50 times (ex­pect sim­i­lar lev­els of ex­po­si­tion for ev­ery plot point) that all records of the sparkly su­per­model planet are clas­si­fied and redacted, Lau­re­line trills “I read about you in his­tory”, at the top se­cret ar­madillo thingy.

Won’t be trou­bling awards sea­son. Un­less they’re hand­ing out Os­cars for lead­ing eye­brows.

Far out Dane DeHaan and Cara Delev­ingne in Valerian

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