The Bock’s Office: ‘Valerian’ and the movie of a thousand clichés
August 4, 2017
As the search for intelligent life continues, it makes us wonder about the kind of tales to be told from the farthest reaches of the galaxy. If "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" offers any clue, maybe we should be on the lookout for the first wormhole to a place that has some fresh ideas.
In the 28th century, what was originally a space station in orbit around Earth has grown exponentially into Alpha, a colossal world of its own populated by races from all over the universe.
While this serves as a beacon of interplanetary cooperation, corruption and conflict still exist, though government agents Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline (Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne) are doing all they can to keep the peace.
With a close call on their latest mission, all either wants to do is take a break from work only to find they are needed more than ever as Alpha is endangered and their commander (Clive Owen) threatened.
When a mysterious force infiltrates the station and disrupts the lives of all onboard, it's up to the two of them to search high and low throughout Alpha for the culprits.
When you need someone emotionally damaged and always lost in thought, look no further than a great character actor like DeHaan. When you need someone to play the quintessential action hero, well, keep searching.
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He gives Valerian some depth beyond the run-of-the-mill, gun-toting pretty boy that usually figures in at the center of these kinds of adventures, yet with his hangdog expression and unconvincing bravado as the best of the best, it's baffling why anyone would think DeHaan would be the best fit.
Delevingne on the other hand, just doesn't seem to care, turning in a performance that's bored on her part and boring to watch for us, though you can't blame her. Laureline is written as the standard co-worker love interest, far more responsible than her play-it-by-ear colleague yet nonetheless outranked by him.
And, he wonders why she doesn't want to take their relationship to the next level.
Owen barely has any bearing as their superior, and jazz musician Herbie Hancock has only the briefest of appearances as an official overseeing the duo's exploits, but do we really want to worry about humans when there are so many alien species to explore?
Well, that depends which part of Alpha you're exploring, whether you're being pestered by a trio of panhandlers that look like a gruesome hybrid of a platypus, a bat and an elephant or taking in the seedy underworld in which a shape-shifter stripper named Bubble (Rihanna) offers all you could want for the right price.
Truly family entertainment at its best.
French filmmaker Luc Besson isn't afraid to get weird in his adaptation of the comic series "Valérian and Laureline," which was certainly ahead of its time 50 years ago. The man who made "The Fifth Element" has the world at his fingertips here, employing the same kind of blend of otherworldly beings and Earth folk with the effects that made "Avatar" work as well as it did.
But, apart from an excellent introduction set to David Bowie's "Space Oddity" that provides the exposition for Alpha's origin and the gorgeous, shimmering rendering of a doomed planet named Mül, it all feels like a weak version of "Star Trek."
An overlong script is crawling with throwaway jokes, predictable plot developments and hardly any efforts to utilize the sociopolitical subtext that comes with it.
With an abundance of attention devoted to a spunky little space rodent that excretes a powerful resource, it's clear where the priorities are.
Besides having a fatally long yet unmemorable name, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planers" suffers from the sameness of so many summer blockbusters with a glossy veneer that can't cover up a disinterested cast or thin story.
And, as the most expensive European film of all time, it's at least a win to know empty calorie entertainment isn't uniquely American.