A sci-fi epic with a personal touch and a taste for quirk and kink, Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the cantina scene in the first “Star Wars” movie on steroids. It’s fun and colorful, a special-effects extravaganza that somehow feels friendlier and homier than most films of its ilk.
But here’s the rub: Besson takes all that fun and color, along with a wild array of fantastic creatures, and deploys it in the service of a big, dopey story that remains resolutely uninvolving and often quite annoying.
This is a movie that really wants to be loved, and one that probably will be loved by many. TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde will have a full review on Tuesday — but after seeing an advance screening that prompted a flurry of tweets describing how fun and spectacular it was, I can say that the fun and the spectacle left me cold.
Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the fun and spectacle left me impressed, but the clunkiness and silliness that surrounded lead actors Dane De Haan and Cara Delivigne had me actively disliking them and everything around them.
Cool environments and crazy creatures, after all, can’t compensate for a pair of lead actors who drive their leaden one-note repartee into the ground for two hours plus.
DeHaan and Delevigne play Valerian and Laureline, a pair of ace galactic operatives tasked with guarding Commander Arün Filitt, a glowering military man whose every scowl screams “I’m up to no good!” Their adventures take them through an enormous space station called Alpha, which has grown into a gargantuan repository of every species in the galaxy – think “Zootopia” with aliens.
Valerian is a playboy with a permanent case of Resting Flirt Face, though he keeps telling Laureline that he wants to settle down and marry her. (We have to take his word for it, because he doesn’t seem like the settling-down kind of guy.) Delivigne is sharp and sassy and annoying and she doesn’t fall for his line, but he knows that she’s got a thing for him deep down.
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We have to take his word for this, too; the film is skimpy on backstory between these two, and pretty much all they do is snipe at each other in a way that’s supposed to be cute but quickly becomes tiresome. (I mean, if Han and Leia bickered this much, nobody in “Star Wars” would have bothered to rescue them from Boba Fett or Jabba the Hutt.) The last “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie showed that you can pull off flirtatious bickering in space, but DeHaan and Delevigne just seem like bratty teens stuck in a mode that barely gives them enough time to save the universe between insults.
And that’s a shame, because Besson’s long-in-the-works adaptation of the French sci-fi comics “Valerian and Laureline” has a vivid look and feel, and he’s clearly enjoying the opportunity to pull out all the stops and create a world that has room for more and weirder aliens than we’ve ever seen in one place before.
(And yeah, one of them is Rihanna, whose dance sequence is so over-the-top that every video she ever makes for the rest of her life will seem anti-climactic.)
In “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” he’s given us a wild, weird and occasionally wonderful environment. And then he’s thrown in a couple of dopes that we just wish would go away so we could look at all that shiny fun stuff.