Avatar meets Barbarella meets one of those 3D theme park “Experiences” in Luc Besson’s barmy new space opera, set on a 28th-century space station populated by a thousand different species.
Based on a French comic book, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has one of the weirdest casts of the year. Cara Delevigne, Dane DeHaan, Rihanna, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock. The alien characters are even more diverse, yet we’re lumbered with the most mind-numbingly boring human protagonists in the entire universe, played by Delevigne and DeHaan. Why were they cast, if not for their fame or charisma? Because their names both start with ‘De’? In that case I’d rather have seen Valerian and Laureline played by Danny DeVito and Ellen DeGeneres. That might at least have been funny.
More likely is that the $200m budget was spent on the state-of-the-art visual effects, and Besson has no interest in the human element of filmmaking. This is a visually spectacular space romp, in some areas a creative supernova, in others a black hole. Without a trace of emotional connection, even the most immaculate computerised worlds can’t help but feel computerised, and Valerian whizzes around with the nauseating whiplash effect of when my childhood friends and I would eat too many sweets and play TimeSplitters 2 on the PlayStation.
This is all by design for Besson, whose jaw-droppingly bad dialogue appears to have been lifted verbatim from a botched translation of the comic book. The only bit of directing actors he seemingly managed was to tell Dane Dehaan to “just do Keanu Reeves.” Quite how Valerian and Laureline are meant to travel between dimensions when they haven’t even mastered talking yet is anyone’s guess. Their flirting seems to have been written by a rudimentary computer programme that was fed random lines of soap opera dialogue until it tried to kill itself.
With a script that sounds like no one read it and acting that looks like no one… ever, Valerian is clearly made for and by non-English speakers. Which makes the treatment of all the characters who aren’t the two young, white, heterosexual Americans feel all the more asinine. The incongruous cast, insane designs and incoherent narrative make for a baffling viewing experience. It has plot from the ’60s, clichés from the ’80s and visuals from the future, but the only way 28th-century humans could possibly resemble these people is if we spent the next 700 years watching Valerian sequels.