Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
At the age of 10, visionary French film director Luc Besson fell in love with the French-Belgian space opera comic Valerian and Laureline by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres. Chronicling the wild adventures of two sassy space cops, Valerian and Laureline is said to have influenced Star Wars and, of course, Besson’s 1997 sci-fi classic The Fifth Element. Now, Besson’s cinematic adaptation of his beloved childhood comic, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, hits theaters in all of its glorious spectacle.
Besson has created an intoxicating, visually enchanting world in Valerian — one that is richly and imaginatively rendered, deeply textured and almost overwhelming. This film drops you into an
outer space world that knows no limits on space, time and dimension, and asks the viewer to go along for this deeply weird roller coaster ride.
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne star as Valerian and Laureline, a couple of federal space agents, a combination of FBI, undercover police and Secret Service. They’re tasked with securing a rare converter being sold on the black market, but the seemingly simple mission leads to a government conspiracy to cover up the genocide of the peaceful Mul people 30 years ago.
The surviving Mul people, staging their own small resistance, are like the Na’vi from
Avatar, not only in bearing — the Mul look like tall, thin pearlescent Masai warriors — but in the way they coexist in peaceful equality with their environment. Fighting for their existence is the noblest of causes.
While the duo chase down leads, and escape from tricky pickles, Valerian makes an attempt to woo Laureline, asking her to marry him over and over again. This is the 28th century in space. People do their shopping in another dimension. Jellyfish have psychic innards. In a world that seems so rife with possibilities, why force their romance into a tradition that seems rather meaningless in this environment?
Perhaps the proposal thing feels so forced and awkward between Valerian and Laureline because there’s not much tangible chemistry between DeHaan and Delevingne. They’re both slight and wispy, not quite filling the suits of these powerful space heroes — at times they look like little kids next to their foes. DeHaan feels miscast, not the rakish playboy charmer as this film tries to present him. He fades back over the course of the film, while Delevingne comes to the forefront, with a magnetic screen presence established through the sheer force of her eyes. It’s a shame that her character’s name isn’t also in the film’s title, like the comic, as Laureline is every inch the hero as Valerian.
The message of Valerian is a deeply hopeful and humane one, about the power of love and trust and setting aside procedure and protocol to do the right thing. It’s a movie about dissolving the limits of space and dimensionality in order to create a harmonious existence for all living creatures, and that extends to hierarchical power structures as well.
Despite Valerian and Laureline’s hollow romantic relationship, and moments where the film loses the story thread and sense of geography altogether, it’s almost impossible to not be swept away by Besson’s stunning world, and his beating heart that drives the moral of the story home.