Eye Candy: ‘Valerian’ is all sugar, no substance

Final (Left to right.) Dane DeHaan, and Cara Delevingne star in EuropaCorp's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. (Photo credit: Vikram Gounassegarin Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
2.5 out of 5 Stars
Luc Besson
Writers: Luc Besson, Pierre Christin (Comic Book), Jean-Claude Mézières (Comic Book)
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language

Synopsis: Special Operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) must identify the cause of a fatal radiation leak in the giant space station Alpha.

Review: Based on the 1960s comic “Valerian and Laureline,” “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a visually rich experience. Unfortunately, that’s about all it is as poor casting, an underwhelming script and overly goofy tone keeps “Valerian” grounded.

In some ways “Valerian” suffers from the same problem that “John Carter” did in that the source material has been heavily mined over the years by numerous other films. While I haven’t seen or heard that George Lucas was influenced by Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin’s work, it is hard not to see “Valerian” as a Han Solo and Princess Leia tale. Which leads us to one of the film’s biggest flaws, the casting of Dane DeHaan. DeHaan is a decent actor, but he lacks the charisma and swagger that is required to make Valerian feel like the womanizing hero that the script makes him out to be. DeHaan just doesn’t have the necessary moxie.

Cara Delevingne fares far better as Valerian's partner and lover Laureline, but pales in comparison to Carrie Fisher’s Leia. Then again, that’s not really a fair competition. Nonetheless, Delevingne needed to follow up her abysmal performance as Enchantress in "Suicide Squad" with something more solid; she has done that.

Speaking of actors turning in improved performances, Rihanna is far better here than she was in “Battleship.” It’s not a big role, but it is well suited to her particular talents.

Visually the film is a lot of fun and features a menagerie of colorful and bizarre aliens. There is a playfulness to the designs that makes the film appear to be a little more family friendly than it actually is, but essentially director/writer Luc Besson takes visual cues from “The Fifth Element” and his Arthur animated films and turns them all the way up to eleven. It’s bigger, more expansive and immersive.

The playfulness extends to many of the performances, but the silly bits just get in the way. We saw Chris Tucker almost derail “The Fifth Element,” and while there aren’t any characters that are quite at that level, Clive Owen’s performance is dangerously close in its own way, we do see more goofiness from background characters that quickly becomes a distraction.

Besson is also responsible for providing the actors with some of the strangest and most unnatural dialog this side of George Lucas.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will appease sci-fi fans who are more interested in visual effects and imaginative designs than they are in storytelling. It’s big and dumb, but not nearly as much fun as I would have liked it to be.

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