For a review of “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 “Valérian and Laureline” by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean- Claude Mézières. Chronicling the wild adventures of two sassy space cops, “Valérian 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, imaginatively rendered, deeply textured and almost overwhelming. This film drops you into an outer space world that knows no limits on space, time and dimensionality, 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 cops 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 governmental conspiracy to cover up the genocide of the peaceful Mül people 30 years ago.
The surviving Mül people, staging their own small resistance, are like the Na’vi from “Avatar,” not only in bearing — the Mül 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 amovie 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 aswell.
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.
“Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets,” a STX Entertainment release, is rated PG- 13 for sci- fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language. Running time: 137 minutes.
Something curious happens to time in Christopher Nolan’s movies. On screen, it twists and dances and coils enticingly; off screen, it vanishes. His magnificent new film, “Dunkirk,” seems to be over in a flash — you disappear inside of it and it changes you, as all great movies do.
Based on a remarkable story from World War II, “Dunkirk” unfolds on land, on the sea and in the air. The land is a vast beach in Dunkirk, France, in May 1940, where hundreds of thousands of British soldiers are trapped — the English Channel on one side, enemy forces on the other. The sea is that choppy, green- gray Channel, where a small wooden yacht named Moonstone, manned by a middleaged father ( Mark Rylance) and his teenage son ( Tom Glynn- Carney), is one of hundreds of nonmilitary vessels summoned by the British government in a vast, unprecedented evacuation mission. And the air is above the Channel, where an RAF Spitfire pilot ( Tom Hardy) battles the Luftwaffe planes — despite a shot- out gas gauge.
These three stories, taking place in their own time ( the evacuation on the beach takes days; the flight, amere hour) yet interwoven, each feel like an entire world; you watch realizing that you’re not breathing.
Two young soldiers on the beach, desperate to get onto a hospital boat, grab a stretcher and race through the endless crowds waiting on the mole ( a long wooden pier); we don’t know their names or their stories, but we race with them. A shellshocked soldier ( Cillian Murphy) stranded at sea, picked up by the father and son, panics upon realizing that they are headed back into war—“I’m not going back,” he says, his eyes mirrors of horror, and you see the hell of combat that “Dunkirk” doesn’t show us.
And, in one quiet nod of approval between the father and son — and in Rylance’s beautifully subtle portrayal of quiet, determined decency — you see the essence of this story: These young men fought, and these scores of regular Brits climbed into boats to go retrieve them, because it was, simply, the right thing to do.
“Dunkirk” succeeds spectacularly both emotionally and visually. ( See it in 70mm IMAX if you possibly can; I did, and am still reeling. “Dunkirk” is screening in a variety of formats; check tickets. dunkirkmovie.com for a listing of theaters showing it in 70mm and 70mm IMAX.) That chilly sea looks endless from the seat of that Spitfire; the lines of men on the beach appear impossibly long; that boat seems tiny amid the waves. Remarkable action sequences unfurl, particularly a breathtaking late scene inwhich flames froma sinking ship engulf the sea.
But it’s the quiet moments that linger with you after this film, and the aching sense of home — both as something we yearn for, and something that takes care of us — that pervades it. “Dunkirk” is not a story of triumph, but one of living to fight another day, with a little help from our friends. “All we did was survive,” says a quiet soldier, near the end. For now, he’s told, “that’s enough.”
“Dunkirk,” a Warner Bros. Picture release, is rated PG- 13 for intense war experience and some language. Running time: 106 minutes. ★★★★
“Dunkirk” stars, from left, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard and Fionn Whitehead.