Fashion meets Fantasy in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

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Let’s just call it Valerian. Man, this title is a mouthful. I kept calling it “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Somethings”. Title aside, it has Luc Besson at the helm. If Christopher Nolan is the bad boy, then Besson is the rock star of directors in my eyes. With his typical style of fashion runway meets sci-fi fantasy, this is a feast for the eyes that is actually worth paying the extra for 3D.

Based on the comic book series, Valerian kicks off in the 28th Century with special ops Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) trying to sort out their relationship issues. Their on-again-off-again arguments are interrupted by a mission to the city of Alpha. They soon realize that someone has tried to cover up a dark plot involving the extinction of an entire planet. In their attempts to get to the bottom of this, Valerian and Laureline delve further towards the “red zone” – a hostile area – giving them ample opportunities to take turns rescuing each other and figuring out what’s best for them as a couple.

So I hope you weren’t expecting a super-deep plot. But – and I’m amazed that I’m saying this – Valerian is still worth the big budgets. To be honest, I wasn’t so sure at the beginning. The two main characters are just not that likeable for a long time. Valerian comes off as a horny, impulsive teenager and Laureline is broody for so long that when she finally does crack a smile, I’m rather taken aback.  But somewhere along the way, I realized that in spite of all this, I was really having a good time.

And this is where the 3D really helps. I’m not a fan of CG covering up a thin plotline but in this case, the kind of fun I was having felt more like being on a theme park ride. And no one goes on a ride for provocative subtext. You know how you forget that a movie is actually in 3D because you just get used to it after awhile? Well, this doesn’t really happen in Valerian because the number of new landscapes you’re thrown into just keeps it fresh. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but my favourite had to be seeing gargantuan underwater creatures in close up as all my instincts were screaming to get away.

The party really kicks off when Rihanna shows up as Bubble, a shape-shifting performer. Exploited and alienated, Bubble gives a nice balance to the film that is rather unexpected. Saving it from becoming just another young adult movie, Bubble’s presence is unfortunately rather late, but at least it shows that Besson can do memorable alien characterizations. Incidentally, his blue operatic alien in The Fifth Element has stuck with me till today and I was absolutely delighted to see touches of that movie in Valerian.

It’s going to be inevitable that it gets compared to Avatar and Star Wars. The main race that Valerian focuses on is so reminiscent of the Na’vi, right down to their pro-ecological values. And so many of the aliens – especially when placed on a sandswept backdrop –  make you expect that Luke Skywalker is going to walk out at any second. But to make these constant comparisons would be to do yourself a disservice. Relax and enjoy it for what it is: a visual spectacle that makes for a pretty fun night out.

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