‘Valerian and the City…’: Lacklustre tale pumped with impressive visuals (IANS Review, Rating: **)

Film: “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”; Director: Luc Besson; Cast: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu. Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat and Rutger Hauer; Rating: **

This latest offering from the French director Luc Besson is based on the ‘Valerian’ comic book characters created by Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Mezieres, which debuted in 1967 through 21 volumes, ending in 2010.

Set in the 28th century, Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Laurine (Cara Delevinge) are a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense, the two embark on a mission to the astonishing city of Alpha, which is also known as the City of Thousand Planets.

In this ever-expanding metropolis, species from all over the Universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with each other. But, there is a mystery at the center of Alpha. A dark force threatens the peaceful existence of the city, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

As a comic book adaptation, the film is a disappointing showcase of promises. It is impressive to look at as it boasts of incredible visuals but the premise itself is bloated beyond belief and the exposition is too verbose. Also, the interesting aspects are so stretched that you find it difficult to concentrate.

The narrative begins with scenes very reminiscent of “Avatar” where you meet another race, speaking a different language. It seems as though this film will have a few deeper elements because there are pale blue people playing with psychedelic balls on a paradise like planet with jewel-pooping frogs, but then the narrative cuts to the two lead characters, Valerian and Laureline, and then lands up looking like a rip-off of Star Wars.

With over 137 self-indulgent, hyperactive yet meandering minutes of run time, the film feels like a series of events that would be played out in a video game. Though there are multiple points of action interweaving into a satisfying spectacle, there is a tinge of ineptitude in the flow.

This you notice when a character completes a mission, another one arises and as soon as a conflict presents itself, the film cuts away to an exposition scene in order to explain how the main characters can save themselves from peril. Thus, with these contrived solutions at every turn, the characters never feel in danger.

On the performance front, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are perfunctory. Valerian is supposed to be a charming rogue, a swaggring playboy, a fearsome cop and none of these attributes work with DeHaan. On screen, he is neither intimidating nor impressive and the script does not back up the praises.

Delevingne is striking to look at but she is stiff and fails to emote. Together with DeHaan, their on screen romance lacks chemistry.

Rihanna as the shape-shifting alien, a burlesque dancer whose routine feels almost like a Hindi film item number. Her role is interesting but short lived.

On the production front, Besson manages to deliver a wacky world of sci-fi that is vibrant, weird, wild and luscious brimming with alien life and the City of a Thousand Planets is impressive to look at.

The set piece of the opening act, an inter-dimensional bazar known as Big Market are a few scenes that show the potential power of Besson’s transporting vision. But they all feel like manic decorations meant to stimulate and distract from the glaring deficiencies of the characters and the story.

Overall, the film degenerates into a kitschy futuristic feature.

By Troy Ribeiro