Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, with Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna. Directed by Luc Besson.
AS eye-poppingly good as The Fifth Element was 20 years ago, Luc Besson’s latest film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, is a sci-fi adventure on an epic scale.
Set in the 28th century, the opening montage shows the origins of Alpha, which started out as an international space station orbiting Earth, developed and built upon by succeeding generations of human astronauts until first contact with alien races, who bring their own technology and culture and add to the station.
Eventually, when its mass proves a threat to Earth, the enormous space station is propelled into deep space, joined by yet more alien civilisations and truly becoming the “city of thousand planets”.
Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are human special agents enjoying some rest and relaxation aboard their spacecraft when Valerian has a dream about a planet that looks like a tropical paradise, where the humanoid inhabitants dwell in tranquillity, their lives sustained by the wondrous pearls they harvest from the ocean.
But their peaceful lives are shattered by the wreckage of spaceships falling from the sky. When a massive vessel pierces their atmosphere they take refuge in one of the fallen craft, but one of their people is left outside, and facing her doom, releases an energy wave that seems to physically affect Valerian, who wakes from his dream.
He and Laureline are sent on a mission to retrieve a prized “converter”, the last of its kind in the universe. In one of the most visually spectacular parts of the movie, they visit a tourist planet where beings of all kinds go shopping in another dimension. Yes, it is that weird and wonderful.
Special goggles and gloves are required to see and interact with beings and objects in the parallel dimension and the special agents’ fellow operatives keep watch while Valerian goes to get the converter. This requires interfering in a black market deal and angering an alien mob boss.
Chased by a seemingly indestructible beast, Valerian and Laureline barely escape before they head to Alpha to deliver the converter.
They report to Commander Filitt (Clive Owen), but soon learn of intrigue and strange occurrences at Alpha, a section of which has become a toxic no-go area from which troops have never returned. It somehow ties in with Valerian’s dream.
When they are attacked and the commander is kidnapped, Valerian and Laureline go on an incredible adventure through the diverse worlds within Alpha.
The visuals are stunning, and there is plenty of quirky humour to accompany them. Another delightful part is when Valerian is introduced to a performing shapeshifter (the singer Rihanna) and her creepy pimp (Ethan Hawke).
It’s pure enjoyable escapism, and Besson’s finest work.