Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets

Off to the cinema last night to watch Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I wasn’t expecting much, as the reviews I’ve seen so far have mostly been so-so. But they are WRONG. Valerian is a better comic book movie than any Marvel film I’ve seen, and a better space opera than Star Wars (though less kid-friendly). There may be a movie which better catches the goofy, optimistic spirit of a certain type of grand manner retro-sci fi, but I can’t think of one. It captures the notion of humanity-taking-its-place-in-a-wider-galactic-civilisation more engagingly than fifty years of  Star Trek, and it does so in a two-minute pre-credits montage (in which astronauts of all nations and then increasingly weird and wonderful aliens are welcomed aboard the ever-expanding International Space Station). Then it whizzes a further 400 years into the future to casually blow Avatar out of the water with a sequence set on a beautiful beach planet where pearly-skinned noble savages live in giant seashells, before rushing us on to a world of white deserts and multi-coloured clouds where tourists amble about wearing clunky headsets, visiting an enormous, bustling market which exists only in a virtual dimension.

As all stories must it settles down a bit eventually, delivering its futuristic agents Valerian and Laureline to Alpha (the former ISS, still growing, crammed with aliens, and en-route for the Magellanic Clouds) to investigate a mystery there. But there are still elaborate detours to take in underwater monsters, man-eating alien fly-fishers, a colossal hat, and Rihanna.

It has its flaws, of course, but I was happy to ignore them. If you buy into it, the ramshackle, episodic structure is a feature, not a bug. The dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle with wit, but the visuals constantly do, (the aliens are funny, the costumes are funny, even some of the fabrics are funny). The only major problem was the central relationship: the bickery romantic attraction between Valerian and Laureline is lifeless, and would be a cliché even if there was enough of a spark between the actors to make it work. (From the few Valerian comics I’ve read I had the impression that the duo were more like Steed and Mrs Peel – they have great trust and affection for each other, but you can’t really tell if they’re a long-established happy couple or just good friends, it’s never mentioned.)

Anyway, if you want witty repartee and nuanced performances this probably isn’t the film for you, but if you want to be dazzled and entertained by crackpot day-glo visions of the distant future for a couple of hours it definitely is.

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