For a re­view of “Va­le­rian and the City of a Thou­sand Plan­ets,

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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. dunkirk­ 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.

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