Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets</strong> (2017)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) There are a lot of things that I don’t really like about Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Given that it’s written by Luc Besson, it’s almost a given that the film will be incredibly stupid in some fundamental ways, that it will feature regressive gender roles and bad banter, that it will have more audacity than coherency and that the male protagonist will be creepy in some fundamental way. Bad news: All of this is true for Valerian. Some, but not all, of it can be blamed on the original French comic book as conceived in the 1960s. (Laureline is hyper-competent in the comics, but Valerian is usually far more capable than in the movie.)  Some, but not all, of it can be blamed on terrible casting: Dane Dehaas is a good choice for mopey roles, but he’s really not suited to the action-hero persona (and contributes to the protagonist’s creep problem); meanwhile, and surprisingly, while Cara Delevigne isn’t my first choice for anything, she proves significantly better than expected as Laureline. Besson being Besson, the film also does feature a striptease sequence featuring Rihanna that does nothing to calm down any criticism of his dedication to the male gaze. (It’s a significantly useless scene, but, ah, let’s keep it in the movie, OK?)  The film would have been significantly better by removing all the so-called romantic subplot between Valerian and Laureline. So: A significantly flawed movie. And yet I don’t care. I’ve been waiting for a sequel to The Fifth Element for decades now, and this is the closest we’ll ever get to it: a visually hyper-dense space opera with far more ideas than it can reasonably address (few things are explained and that’s how it should be), with a peculiar sense of humour, incredible directorial polish, several standout sequences and a conclusion that just leaves audiences smiling. The opening sequence alone, charting the progress of the International Space Station to a planet-sized galactic hub to the sound of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, is fantastic. The opening act’s big action sequence makes little sense if you think about it, but still features things you’ve never seen in action movies. The images of the film are superb, at the cutting-edge of today’s special-effect technology when used liberally. It’s a great science-fiction movie in a light-hearted vein and I’d like more of it. In the meantime, I just like Valerian despite all of its faults.

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