3 years since his last venture into the sci-fi genre, visionary director Luc Besson returns behind the camera for his latest spectacle Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - his decades-in-the-making passion project. And here are my thoughts on it.

Luc Besson is very hit and miss for most - pitching more in the camp of the latter for me. However, if one thing is certain, it's that Besson likes his big, imaginative science-fiction blockbusters; his last crack at the genre, Lucy, was quite the mess, though. 3 years later, and the director is finally bringing his decades-in-the-making passion project - Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - to fruition. But, the question that looms over the near-£200 million blockbuster: is it able to reach the heights of Besson's classic The Fifth Element again or is Valerian another messy, disastrous Lucy in disguise. Well, the answer leans more towards the latter than anything else; that's not to say that Valerian is as bad as the Scarlett Johansson-led disasterpiece (being worse than that is a feat in itself)... but it's awful, regardless.

Based on the French comics of the same name, the story at hand follows our titular Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner, Agent Laureline (Cara Delevingne), as the pair embark on a mission to save Alpha - the notorious City of a Thousand Planets - a hub of vast and various knowledge and experience from the many species inhabited within - from an unknown but deadly threat. That is, in essence, as brief and simple a summation of the basis of Valerian as one could get; this film is, in actual fact, a combobulation of a whole slew of ideas and sub plots that total a rather messy and convoluted narrative arc that we haphazardly embark on - constantly exposed to nothing but exposition upon exposition as an attempt to mawkishly and lazily build this grand and fantastical world and story. This is perhaps Valerian's biggest downfall: a screenplay as chunky and messy as can be, so overstuffed with concepts but no resolution; Besson is so set on making this expansive and intricate world that his irreverence for the necessities of a good film - weaving good characters and a clear, cohesive narrative to fill this visual universe - is painfully obvious. And with a bum-numbing runtime of around 137 minutes and, the film is quick to lose us to a void of tedium and boredom.


With such a busy screenplay, there's little focus given to the characters and they all feel so one-dimensional and riddled with contrivances. Valerian and Laureline are a pair that appear with such promise and intrigue behind them but it's never explored; it's very difficult to really invest in their characters or anything they're doing as a result, which leaves us without much to actually care for when sitting through this epic. It's, of course, no help that Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne feel so miscast in the lead roles; DeHaan, especially, doesn't quite feel like the badass, charismatic Major we're led to believe. They have no chemistry whatsoever either, making their expected romantic subplot all the more unbelievable and contrived than it already was. In fact, nothing in this film feels believable. With this big-budget space-operas, as audience members, we usually go in searching for ways to connect - parallels; relatability within our protagonists; any viable way to connect to these worlds - yet Valerian never offers this up to us. It's so hard to care about what we're watching.

Gratefully, Besson brings his A-game from a visual standpoint. Valerian relies on a heavy abundance of CGI, but it looks seamless and pretty - this is a vibrant and attractive world, utilising a bright colour palette. Stylistically, this is a film that works; the cinematography is slick and the SFX are cool. But, it's nothing we haven't seen before - the comparisons to Avatar are almost a given. What I'm trying to say is Valerian brings nothing new to the table. Yes, the world and all the lore behind it is fascinating - but it's never explored in much depth. In fact, aside from a sleek, over-embellished visual look, promise and potential are all that linger on the tongue with Valerian. It seems that Luc Besson may have bitten off more than he can chew; this is an overstuffed, convoluted, horribly written, poorly acted mess. Yes, it looks pretty. And it is definitely an admirable effort on Besson's behalf. But polishing a turd doesn't make it good now, does it? Frankly, Valerian is a piping hot disaster. It's a bore. In fact, the best thing about this film is Rihanna - who gives an entertaining turn as Bubble - but, sadly, her role is reduced to nothing more than a glorified cameo.


VERDICT:

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a giant, over-bloated mess. It may be visually pretty, but it's a disaster nonetheless.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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