Luc Besson has made some great films in his career: Subway, The Big Blue, La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element and Lucy, to name but six. He's also made the odd clunker, such as The Family, the "Arthur" trilogy, The Lady, Angel-A and The Messenger. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets sits far closer to his six great films than the rest – it's certainly flawed, but it's an awful lot of fun.
It's based on Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières’ graphic novel series Valérian and Laureline that was created in the 1960s, and you if you think that many elements of it seem familiar, you'd be right – many sci-fi films from Star Wars to Blade Runner and even Besson's own The Fifth Element have been influenced by it. The plot is a little all over the place but, in a nutshell, it's set in the 28th Century and there is this giant Earth space station, called Alpha, that was in Earth's orbit until it became too big to stay there and was pushed out into deep space. It now houses millions of being from thousands of worlds across the universe, and is protected by an intergalactic police force of which two members – Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) – are on a mission to hunt down the film's MacGuffin, a rare, small dinosaur-like creature called a Converter that can replicate precious gems. While on this mission they uncover a conspiracy involving a mysterious planet called Mul and its inhabitants, the Pearl, who were wiped out hundreds of years before.
So that's the good. Where the film falls down a little is in the casting of the two main characters: Valerian, the handsome womaniser who wants nothing more than to marry Laureline; and Laureline, the beautiful, smart and feisty partner who suffers Valerian's ways. There's definite chemistry as these watchable and very likable pair flirt and bicker their way through their adventures, but DeHaan - fine actor that he is – is not really an action man, while the lovely Delevingne is still finding her way as an actor. She's good, for sure, but not great; a Scarlett Johansson or Brie Larson might have worked better in the role. There are also some far-too-short cameos from the likes of Rihanna as a shape-shifting alien pole-dancer named Bubble, and Ethan Hawke as her pimp. Rihanna is wonderful and it's a shame she's not in the film for longer – her Bubble is one of the best things in it.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an eye-popping spectacle with a narrative that finally falls into place and makes sense in the final reel (phew!), and is one of those films that is worth seeing more than once. It's not perfect, but there is an awful lot of fun to be had here – just don't see it with a hangover.
EXTRAS: There's the five-part documentary Citizens of Imagination: Creating the Universe of Valerian (58:59), which looks at the film's production, with a lot of attention paid to the special effects; Enhancement Pods (35:58), which offer supplemental featurettes you can watch during the film when an icon pops up; and the stills gallery The Art of Valerian.