Requesting story . . . “Access denied,” replied the film.
Odd, could have sworn everything was fine earlier, specifically in the mind-blowing introductory 20 minutes of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets that sees director Luc Besson connecting us with our younger selves. Gleeful wonderment becomes the only thing palpable as we witness the centuries-long formation of the titular metropolis and then the harrowing destruction of a bona fide thalassophile’s paradise called Mül. Though markedly different in tone, these two moments offer the truest form of tentpole magic, out of the dazzling digitized creations ferment the need to know how they were made and conceive a fantasy that we can be a part of this universe.
But then Besson has to wake us, and Valerian (Dane DeHaan, “Chronicle”), up. Rudely.
The initial goodwill begins its steady decline as we make contact with the human side of things, spearheaded by Valerian and his colleague crush Laureline (Cara Delevingne, “Suicide Squad”). It is refreshing to see what the guy wants more than anything is the hand of the girl — despite an established womanizing past referred as “playlists” — in this era of our lives and the characters’, but little care is warranted when the dynamic is non-existent. DeHaan and Delevingne can only wear but not own the agents’ spunkiness and rebelliousness, more of the fault tipping toward Delevingne due to stoic delivery. Combine that with Besson’s lines — stilted, stuffed and sincere to an exhausting degree — and out comes a recipe for disaster. “They were acting like two normal people today,” Besson said about what drew him to cinematize the 1960s comic book series from Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. The statement would have drawn nods rather than snickers had either of these happened: The clock winding back to the ‘90s, or this is the reality where Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets gets adapted straight to the screen as opposed to being a spiritual descendant of “The Fifth Element.”
Like that Multipass-worthy adventure, still, there is no faulting the level and frequency of imaginative items on display regardless of how Besson’s grandest exhibition (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is now France’s most expensive film) is seen. From the fleeting — a peacock dress and Jessica Rabbit — to the supporting — angry dino-whales, Graeae-like duck-billed informants, bumbling aliens who fish neon butterflies and into high couture and, yes, recorder jellyfish whose memories are accessible through the anus — and the primary — the shimmering and lanky tribe of Pearls who saw their home planet destroyed, the stuff of window dressing breaches main-event status in the film; Besson spending 90 percent of his energy on what other filmmakers, and even those in the genre, will peak at 60. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets shall stand right next to the “passion project” entry in encyclopedias for this, but perhaps 75 would have been enough since the story is dying for just a slice of the creative investment.
True, adorable are the frenetic, what-the-hell splendor of Big Market plus a literally transformative dance sequence starring a shape-shifting alien (Rihanna, “Battleship”), but they regrettably serve as fluff more than contributing gears to Valerian and Laureline’s investigation of a threat at the heart of Alpha. Besson regards the “and” that is supposed to link the character to the location, per the titles, in a different sense, instead cleaving the script into two areas to cover. Ultimately, no half is interesting, and when we get ready for a banquet of exposition and crampedness in staging, the film decides to wrap things up with a plot it has abandoned in the past hour.
Ah, so that’s the key: Wait for a little while to try again and receive the story. For all its state-of-the-art 28th century technology, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets could afford better guidance systems to not literally (and momentarily) dissipate while guiding 21st century visitors and afterward advise them to dream to get the better version of the tour. Of course, Thierry Arbogast’s astonishing cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s mythical notes won’t be included.
Or pop in “The Fifth Element” again. It was, afterall, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets before Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.