Strange to think that something so influential that it would go on to inspires Star Wars, and yet we’re only learning about it now 50 years after. Luc Besson’s French sci-fi graphic novel series Valerian and Laureline has had a cult following for decades, and only now Hollywood is attempted a movie adaptation.
We begin with a montage starting in 1975 with Russian cosmonauts docking on board the international space station, followed by representatives of other nations in the years following, until in 2150 representatives from alien species make first contact, within 400 years the international space station grows to the size of a city amalgamate of alien technology and diverse cultures.
That brings us to the present (future?) with agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingine) on route to a mission aboard there sentient ship Alex. Our intro to the title characters is one big exposition dump and a rather clumsy one, where just given all we need to know about the two, personalities, qualifications, etc, in a bicker some conversation that in no way feels organic. So the gist is Valerian loves Laureline but she doesn’t like him blah blah he’s been waiting for the ‘’right partner’’ (he totally stole that line from Captain America) but enough of that, SPAAACE!
Their mission takes them to Big Market- an inter-dimensional bazaar- to recover a rare specimen, a ‘’converter’’ which is an adorable armadillo dog creature that mass produces whatever you feed it including pearls and diamonds (he and the niffler from Fantastic Beasts would get along famously) before a hasty retreat and arrival on Alpha, the titular City of a Thousand Planets. After securing the converter and slipping into some rejected Mass Effect Armour, they learn there is a radiation leak in the heart of Alpha and before they can be dispatched to investigate, their commander is kidnapped by an alien race from the planet Mul we see at the beginning of the film whose planet was destroyed. Valerian does in search of the commander to try and figure out what is occurring.
For a seemingly simply story, it’s easy to get lost or forget where we are, what follows involves Laureline going on a side quest to find a way to find Valerian, finding him, getting kidnapped herself, and then Valerian having to rescue Laureline from an alien king without causing an diplomatic incident (I suppose in the future shooting the bad guy and proclaiming ‘’its just been revoked!’’, isn’t a thing anymore). Anyway, to get into the alien palace, Valerian enlists the help of a glamour-pod, a shape shifting alien who works as a burlesque dancer. She name is Bubble (played by Rihanna) and she unfortunately contracts that disease that kills your character after their done being relevant to the plot.
After mourning and subsequently forgetting Bubble, they find the commander and-shock of all shocks, sarcasm of all sarcasm- he’s not really a good guy. Turns out he accidentally destroyed Planet Mul and killed most of its people during a space battle (although ‘’accident’’ is a bit of a stretch) and he’s been trying to cover it up ever since. As you do.
Luc Beeson directs alongside his wife, although sadly this isn’t the best way to promote your creation. The film’s greatest strength is in the world building, showcasing various alien species, cultures, technology it truly feels like a real place in its scope and scale. Our leading duo’s performance is somewhat lacking Delevingine in particular shows little expression in face or voice, and on the subject of Laureline her treatment doesn’t do her justice. She’s either being bossed around by Valerian or having to rescue him (to no thanks I might add), her name is absent from the title when she was one of sci-fi’s first real heroines.
But I can suggest the Valerian and Laureline anime series, now streaming on Crunchy Roll, if your interested and want to see more of Beeson’s universe, until then, to each your own.
By Daniel Murphy