VA­LE­RIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOU­SAND PLAN­ETS

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - DAN JOLIN

LUC BES­SON’S LAT­EST is some­thing he’s been itch­ing to make for more than 20 years. It’s based on comic strips that fired his imag­i­na­tion as a pe­tit garçon (the Star Wars-in­flu­enc­ing

Valérian And Lau­re­line, by Pierre Christin and Jean-claude Méz­iéres). It’s en­abled him to let loose with dig­i­tal tech­niques he wished he’d had back on The Fifth El­e­ment. And he’s made it on his own terms, free of stu­dio in­ter­fer­ence, de­spite the pro­duc­tion’s whop­ping $180 mil­lion bud­get. In short, Va­le­rian And The City Of A Thou­sand

Plan­ets is the most am­bi­tious and risky cin­e­matic en­deav­our since James Cameron made Avatar.

The re­sult is a breath­less, bound­less, can­dy­neon pin­ball-ma­chine theme-park freak-out so lack­ing in any sense of cre­ative re­straint it makes most other space op­eras look shabby and timid. If you thought Jupiter As­cend­ing was vis­ually con­ser­va­tive and in­suf­fi­ciently be­wil­der­ing, or that The Force Awak­ens would have been im­proved by a five-minute se­quence in which Ri­hanna pole-dances as a shapeshift­ing pros­ti­tute, Va­le­rian is the movie for you. With jel­ly­fish that eat mem­o­ries, aquatic mon­sters the size of cathe­drals and a bazaar so bizarre it ex­ists si­mul­ta­ne­ously in dif­fer­ent di­men­sions, it’s like

Guardians Of The Galaxy might have turned out if James Gunn were a be­ing made of pure mesca­line.

On one level, you have to ap­plaud Bes­son. This is world-build­ing where not even the sky is the limit and ev­ery frame is stuffed with mad-ge­nius in­ven­tion. It’s the oil on can­vas to

The Fifth El­e­ment’s doo­dle on a beer mat. But what’s miss­ing is… well… ev­ery­thing else. Story. Char­ac­ter. Co­her­ence. A sense of pace, even.

At two-and-a-quar­ter hours long, Va­le­rian is a marathon run at a sprint. It’s ex­haust­ing. Dur­ing those rare nano-mo­ments where oh-so-pretty leads Dane Dehaan and Cara Delev­ingne slow down to talk and flirt, they com­mu­ni­cate only in leaden cliché-ese. “My heart will be­long to you and no-one else,” blahs Va­le­rian; “You’re scared of com­mit­ment,” Lau­re­line drones in re­sponse. Bes­son may be able to mar­shal the mighty forces of VFX to craft any weirdo mon­ster or space­ship his dis­tended sub­con­scious can squirt out, but he can’t cre­ate any chem­istry be­tween th­ese two. Dehaan, a damn fine ac­tor who’s best em­ployed as the wan out­sider, is des­per­ately mis­cast as the sup­pos­edly suave hero. Delev­ingne has lit­tle more to do than pout, glower and punch Clive Owen. There’s no sense of depth or his­tory, no rea­son to care for their mis­sion or their er­satz ro­mance.

As for the plot they have to pro­pel, once you strip away all the shiny, gree­ble-cov­ered cladding, it’s flim­sier than a bot­tle rocket at­tempt­ing re-en­try. There’s a cute alien crit­ter our he­roes have to res­cue from a place. Then they take it to an­other place, where aliens who look like su­per­mod­els want the crit­ter back. That’s pretty much it, and yet some­how you still feel be­fud­dled.

The sad truth is, once the giddy nov­elty of rid­ing dodgems in Bes­son’s psy­che­delic space car­ni­val wanes, it all be­comes quite grat­ing. Al­most enough to make you want to grab the near­est mem­ory-eat­ing jel­ly­fish.

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