Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets (Luc Besson, 2017)

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En español a continuación.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, directed by Luc Besson (2017).

Score: takes off with a bang, goes out with a poof.

When I was a kid, in the late Nineties, my dad subscribed to cable. The Fifth Element had just come out, they aired it several times a week at different times and it became a family tradition that we watched it to the end every time it came up. I always went to bed on a cloud, lulled by Korben and Leeloo’s kiss in Eric Serra’s “Little light of love.

So I went to see Valerian quite gingerly, having seen the mixed reviews. The first and second acts of Valerian are a crazy flurry of action and colour, insanely fun and light-hearted, but at the same time visually and technologically ambitious and unrestrained. Then, for some reason, the third act deflates and has you leave the cinema with a bad taste in your mouth.

Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are a pair of special operatives, who happen to be sexually involved, tasked with recovering a stolen Converter, a small animal that is pretty much the goose that laid the golden egg. Valerian has had a vision of a distant planet where these beings lived, inhabited by pearly humanoids that got exterminated from orbit by a mysterious dreadnought. Back in Alpha, the eponymous City of a Thousand Planets, Valerian and Laureline are tasked with protecting Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) in the wake of an unknown blight that is infecting the core of Alpha.

The similarities with The Fifth Element are not just due to Besson’s tastes: both are based on Valérian et Laureline, a French comic book series running from 1967 to 2010 (Star Wars also borrowed heavily from it, for what it’s worth). Valerian is visually stunning: hypersaturated colour, careful art and costume design in the best tradition of space opera and state-of-the-art special effects. It is also action-packed from the very beginning: after introducing the Pearls, we dive head-first into the fun and compelling section of the Big Market, an ingenious retrieval mission on multiple dimensions. Back in Alpha, Valerian and Laureline get into exciting adventures and meet quirky characters when trying to unravel the mystery of the dead zone in the heart of the massive space station. And then, when it is time to wrap everything up, for some reason, the whole thing becomes utterly uninteresting, which is really weird because the challenges of the first two acts are resolved very efficiently.

If you are a fan of The Fifth Element or light-hearted space opera in the vein of Futurama, I’d advise you give it a try. Even though it crumbles towards the end, I’d say the experience was positive overall.

I’ll try to figure out why the ending fails, but for that I need the SPOILER TAG!

***SPOILERS***

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