Space - it provides film and television with countless creative possibilities. While science strives to prove that life exists outside of our planet, Hollywood has long utilised the universe as a launchpad for our wildest fantasies. In recent years, we've witnessed some incredible scenarios - from 'Gravity' to 'The Martian' to 'Guardians Of The Galaxy'. 'Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets' takes an ambitious stab at the genre - but is it worthy to stand alongside the modern space odysseys?
Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan, 'A Cure For Wellness', 'Devil's Knot') and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne, 'Suicide Squad', 'Paper Towns') are on a mission to rescue a one-of-a-kind artefact and deliver it to the titular city of a thousand planets, Alpha. Upon their arrival at the space station, however, things seem askew - particularly when an emergency leadership meeting sees the kidnapping of Commander Filitt (Clive Owen, 'Children Of Men', 'Sin City'). As Valerian and Laureline track down the perpetrators, they uncover some secrets which have been haunting Alpha, and must choose between their orders and doing the right thing.
Writer/director Luc Besson ('Lucy') has used the comic book series 'Valerian and Laureline' as his source material for this big screen extravaganza. The problem is, we've seen it all before: it was also a heavy influence on his 1997 hit 'The Fifth Element'. Countless times we whiz through futuristic cities in scenes that could easily have been lifted from his earlier masterpiece. The problem here, though, is that even with two decades of technological advances, Besson's concept hasn't, resulting in far too many moments of déjà vu. Worse still, these worlds seem far too artificial; with an unhealthy reliance on green screen, the aesthetics are so superficial and contrived, coming off as plastic and exorbitantly oversaturated. It's like taking in two hours of sugar consumption - a little is enjoyable, but the excess becomes unbearable.
Compensation comes in the form of the film's leads - DeHaan and (yes, believe it or not) Delevingne are without doubt its best assets. The former gets a turn at a new role: cocky, assured, even smarmy. It takes a while to acclimatise to, but it does work. This is also officially the first time I've seen Delevingne in a role which I have not utterly despised; in fact, she may be more enjoyable to watch than DeHaan. She plays well off his smug superiority, whilst bringing a strong and independent feminine tenacity - vital after her character's role is relegated to Valerian's sidekick and stripped from the 50/50 title share of the comic series.
Dean DeHaan and (yes, believe it or not) Cara Delevingne are without doubt the film's best assets.
Even these two can't entirely excel the film above an average cinematic experience. There are too many issues in the story to overlook - the plot jumps from one event to another, in what appears to be the compression of many comic book stories into one larger episode. The worst and most irrelevant of all of these is that of Rihanna's plot deviation; her character Bubble leads us on a completely redundant storyline which adds an unnecessary half hour to the film, all to accommodate the actor/musician (and not the other way around). As it is, she spends most of her time played by a body double or a CGI octopus-like blob, meaning her role is little more than a glorified voice over.
There's great potential in the 'Valerian and Laureline' universe, yet it has been squandered in this adaptation. Visually familiar, murkily constructed and testosterone-heavy, what could have been an out of this galaxy adventure is relegated to yet another mediocre piece of entertainment. With the world at your fingertips, there's no real reason to make 'Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets' the centre of your universe.