I often like to dredge up those movies not appreciated as much as they deserve upon their theatrical release, as happened with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets in 2017.
Yet at the helm was the great Luc Besson, who squeezed every drop of his visual imagination with a high budget to deliver this crazy interstellar epic.
Taking place in the 28th century, this sci-fi adventure is set around the immense space metropolis called Alpha, built on the foundations of Earth’s old International Space Station.
In this giant, multicultural city floating in space, thousands of alien species coexist and share knowledge and resources, with the United Human Federation in charge of keeping peace and harmony among all races.
Two of these special cops are Valerian and Laureline, space-time agents who work together in a mixture of professional collaboration and romantic relationships.
Valerian is a reckless warrior and notorious womanizer, while Laureline is an intelligent and charming strategist, together forming a formidable team.
It all begins with their mission to infiltrate an interdimensional market to recover a rare artifact, the mysterious Mül converter.
With much laughter and an exaggerated shootout, the couple successfully escapes with precious loot, which turns out to be a delicate little animal, the last of its kind, capable of endlessly duplicating any object.
However, when they return to Alpha, a commando of masked terrorists assaults the control center and steals the precious converter.
At that point, Valerian and Laureline must investigate the labyrinth of the various neighborhoods and sectors of the flying city, which is as complex and intricate as the diversity of species living in it.
At the very center of this interstellar melting pot, indeed, is a dark menace that threatens to destroy the peace all races have spent centuries building.
The joy of a child in outer space
Luc Besson‘s talent may or may not be appreciated, but his ability to create compelling and visionary stories is undeniable.
The director’s enthusiasm for diving back into fantastic worlds is evident in each of his movies, and we admire it to the nth degree in the adventures of Valerian and Laureline from 2017.
This enthusiasm reflects in the cheeky and charming youthfulness of the protagonists, who, despite their tender age, emerge as respected spacetime agents striving to maintain order in the universe.
The aesthetic aspect and adventurous narrative are reminiscent of the early Star Wars before it became too serious and boringly repetitive.
Also, as in the earlier The Fifth Element from the 1990s, Besson combines humor and romance with the visual show of some exciting scenes, even in the action and tension, such as the thrilling first mission in the interdimensional marketplace.
Even crazier is the enormous city of Alpha, with its wide range of alien species and its vibrant variety of styles and trends, embodying an idea of freedom and cooperation between different cultures equally embodied in the quirky and adorably crazy personalities that populate this story.
A memorable example of this mix of charm madness is the scene in which Rihanna, a shape-shifting artist, performs a stunning ballet that perfectly unites the singer’s sensuality and the creative flair of Besson’s genius.
I have seen many opinions and reviews complaining about bad actors or overly cheerful pace, but only some sci-fi movies have to be slow and introspective like Interstellar or 2001: A Space Odyssey.
As I said, this genuine joy is what Star Wars lost over the decades, perhaps due in part to an audience too tied to an unnecessary realism that is always a tight noose for the director’s imaginative mind.
Young, beautiful and talented
Again talking about the young age of the main characters, since it has been an issue for many, it should not be misleading.
Indeed, at first, they might seem like usual characters from a TV series like Melrose Place, yet just observe carefully to discover they are much deeper and more complex.
Let’s start with Dane DeHaan, whom I had already enjoyed in the excellent Chronicle. Here he gives a remarkable performance as Major Valerian, the masculine half of the main combo.
The character often comes across as comical and overconfident, overrating himself to the point of always getting into problematic and funny situations.
This trait is also evident in his constant courtship of the gorgeous Cara Delevingne, who, as Sergeant Laureline, delivers above and beyond expectations.
Beautiful and proud, her female delicacy emerges at the most unexpected moments, creating an irresistible mix of strength and tender that perfectly matches Valerian’s baby macho character.
The story also benefits from the excellent performance of Clive Owen, playing the ambiguous Commander Arün Filitt, adding a thriller twist to the solid sci-fi recipe.
His plots and conspiracies symbolize the madness and deceitful face of the knucklehead’s war commander, counting their victims as numbers instead of living beings.
In this sense, regarding the aliens, we emphasize the incredible variety of colorful CGI-built characters that live in this universe.
Moreover, there are several impressive cameos, such as the one mentioned by Rihanna, or other notable presences, such as the appearances of Ethan Hawke and Rutger Hauer.
Unfortunately, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets could have been a better commercial success for Luc Besson, although this movie grossed over $220 million worldwide in 2017.
However, the high production cost comprised much of the earnings, branding this sci-fi adventure a disappointing flop.