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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review: It Needs to Be on Your Summer Watchlist

Luc Besson's sci-films films are grandiose in scale, and utterly unapologetically so.

Shantanu David | News18.com

Updated:July 28, 2017, 1:38 PM IST
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review: It Needs to Be on Your Summer Watchlist
Image: A YouTube grab of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

Director: Luc Besson

Let's be honest, a virtue oft ignored in the critiquing industry.

Luc Besson's cinema encourages a great deal of partisanship, both positive and negative. His style of filmmaking, classified as well as dismissed as Cinema du Look (style rather than substance) is one the French director eschews.

We disagree. But in a wholly positive way. The Fifth Element is one of the finest sci-fi movies ever made, having (and despite, some may say) Bruce Willis as its protagonist and Milla Jovovich as the unforgettable titular character. Incredible visuals, utterly esoteric characters (Chris Rock as the reviled and or revered Ruby Rhod) and an apocalyptic plot line all contributed towards a film that hasn't seen competition since the early Star Wars chapters that preceded it (haters and the outraged can comment at the bottom of this piece).

Anyone who has seen 1994's Leon: The Professional (headlined by the subtle genius of Jean Reno and the sheer chutzpah of a debutante 14-year-old Natalie Portman), can NOT deny, Besson's cinematic prowess. And that was set in dreary old New York.

Besson's sci-films films are grandiose in scale, and utterly unapologetically so. The audience, through the eyes of their protagonists plunge, literally, into a world that is as layered as it is homogeneous, a melting pot of galactic races, languages and attitudes. Machines whirr and click in tandem even as their operators - from galaxies far and wide - push and shove for operational and social primacy. Humans seem to make up a harmful, yet necessary, demographic, sort of like the mosquitoes that traverse our terrestrial planes -- they affect and effect worlds and galaxies with no particular purpose apart from their presence in virtually every sphere.

In Valerian (and the thousand planets), this theme continues. A gargantuan space station called Alpha exists in deep space, a collective of races from all across the known universes, sharing their knowledge and skill, with a strong human presence/authority, which is presumably prevalent because of our fecundity or intolerance (other prominent races include immortal robot bankers, ET-protoypes who converse with and presumably control minds, among others, all of whom seem to have no say in the operations of the largest knowledge bank in the universe).

It is here that Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Clara Delevingne) find themselves after a mission that has earned them two of the universe's most unique treasures as well as the ire and presumably fatal enemity of a pirate race, the chief of whom is gorgeously voiced by John Goodman.

Entering Alpha, the dynamic duo (and their sentient spaceship Alex) find themselves mired in the usual politics that plague any significant dwelling, complicated in this case by other alien races, the totality of whom are indulging in a cold turf war. A brusque station commander (played by a gleefully graying Clive Owen), loyal Human general and three duck-billed trio of highly intelligent - and completely immoral - alien snitches complete the cast of characters, engaged in various battles of wits, ego and legalities.

There are, of course, monsters, killer robots, misunderstood villains, and a slew of special guest stars including the shape-shifting Bubbles, played by an incandescent Rihanna, which all go towards soothing the hurt and burn caused by other, recent sci-fi spectacles.

The plot stumbles along, but the movie's sheer spectacle and chemistry of its cast (hats off to Daan for growing up so well and Clara for being able to act despite her beauty) and their badinage makes Valerian a necessary summer watch.

Rating: 3.5/5

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