★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki
Until recently, I had never seen a film by the French director Luc Besson. All I knew about Besson is that his 1994 film The Professional was excellent, his 1997 film The Fifth Element & his 2014 film Lucy are both films you'll either love or hate, & most of his other films are not that good.
I will admit, I went into Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets with mixed expectations: Peter Sobczynski of RogerEbert.com called it "a weirdo sci-fi epic for the ages", while Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called it "your Razzie frontrunner." However, I wholeheartedly agree with Sobczynski; it's a delightfully quirky sci-fi masterpiece.
Based on the comic book series Valérian & Laureline by Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières, & set in the 28th century, the film focuses on Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) & Sergeant Laureline (played by Cara Delevingne), special agents of the human police forces on Alpha, a space station where millions of creatures from different planets live in peace. Valerian wants to marry Laureline, but Laureline is wary of Valerian's womanizing ways.
One day, Valerian has a dream of an idyllic planet home to a humanoid race being destroyed by space debris. After the dream, him & Laureline are sent to save an animal from the dream called a converter.
Once they retrieve the converter & return to Alpha, the leader of the police force, Commander Filitt (played by Clive Owen), Valerian & Laureline are told of an unknown force infecting the ship, & that they must protect him.
Eventually, Valerian is kidnapped by the humanoids, & Laureline must set off to find him. As they eventually find each other, they team up with Bubble (played by Rihanna), a shapeshifting alien controlled by Jolly the Pimp (played by Ethan Hawke). But Valerian & Laureline eventually find a very sinister conspiracy involving the destruction of the humanoid planet.
The cast is spectacular. DeHaan & Delevingne have a lot of chemistry together, & they make a great duo. Rihanna also gives a great performance. Owen is commanding & fierce. But Ethan Hawke gives the best performance of the film. Hawke, who is one of the best actors of his generation, namely because of his performances in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, Boyhood, & Training Day, is cast dramatically against type here. His performance as the aforementioned intergalactic cowboy pimp is so delightfully over-the-top that you can't help but be entranced by it.
Luc Besson's direction is spectacular. You can see his brilliant directorial vision in every single frame of the film, & he adds a fun atmosphere to the film.
His screenplay is excellent as well. The world he has created from his screenplay is filled with such idiosyncratic characters that don't feel like caricatures.
Thierry Arbogast's cinematography is nothing short of wondrous. His camerawork is filled with so many wide shots with so many bright colors, & it's the best aspect of the film.
Julien Rey's editing is great. The film is perfectly paced, & nothing goes on for too long or not long enough.
The costume design by Olivier Bérot is amazing. The futuristic clothing worn by the characters are so impressively done.
The production design by Hugues Tissandier is spectacular. The sets are so immersive that you could just look at them for hours.
The sound design is also wonderful, with the sounds of the spaceships & explosions & battles being absolutely immersive.
And the visual effects are an absolute treasure. The CGI world created by the effects team is so effortlessly put to screen that they become another character themselves.
This is a film that most people will either love or hate. And as you can see from the two reviews I mentioned above, that definitely is the case. I definitely liked it though. It's a different type of sci-fi film that isn't really seen that often in cinema anymore.
Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, July 28, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 137 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence & action, suggestive material & brief language.