So I just saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and the only reason that I went to see this movie was to see special effects. And boy, was that a good decision, because while the visuals are dazzling and the world-building was quite nice, the story and the casting was really off. Secretly, we might have hoped for a new version of The Fifth Element (also directed by Luc Besson) but while The Fifth Element had Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman, Valerian had mostly miscast actors.
So, this is the story of two special agents named Valerian and Laureline and judging by the story that the film tried to sell to me, these are two professional partners who harbor hidden feelings for each other. In the first scene where Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne play their respective characters, they ehhh cavort with each other, but there is no apparent chemistry between them. It is more as if they are just used to making witty remarks to each other. There is no emotion. But then Valerian tries to convince Laureline to marry him and it wasn’t clear to me whether he was joking or serious. Their connection was as if they were still wondering if there was anything between them, and as if they were still thinking about going on a first date. But the way Dane DeHaan delivers it is like a whining guy, and Cara Delevingne comes across as if she secretly hates her partner.
Later on in the film, there are more moments where romance is forced onto this couple, and each time it felt totally disconnected from reality. There is a scene where an alien gives Valerian advice about love, and how he should love Laureline with all his heart, but their romance was so absent that this scene made no sense at all. I was wondering: aren’t you a bit forward with this, alien? What if he doesn’t have feelings for his partner, wouldn’t that make this advice misplaced?
Another problem with Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne is that they are playing secret agents who are taken seriously as such, and seem to carry themselves with some authority. But they are just two scrawny kids and there is no reason why a general should even take them seriously. DeHaan is no Bruce Willis. He doesn’t carry the film as an experienced secret agent who can deal with crime. Unless Luc Besson thought that he was making Spy Kids, this just felt silly. Even Jean Reno would have made a better choice, the way he played in Wasabi. Reno has the action and deadpan comedy down, and this film needed something to counterbalance the color carnival of silly special effects.
That was the beauty of casting Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element. Willis is a low-key, grounded guy who doesn’t take shit. He stood outside this weird and dazzling future. Valerian would have benefited from a similarly grounded guy to balance out the tone of the film.
Like in many of Besson’s films, there is a lot of weirdness for weirdness’ sake. Some of it works, some doesn’t. There is a scene where our heroes go to a market in another dimension, and immediately the camera focuses on some weird tour guide with a turban who gives a whole show, but meanwhile the film hasn’t explained well what we are doing there and what the main characters are on about. The film shoves weird stuff in front of you in the way that it obstructs the flow of the narrative.
The universe of Valerian holds the potential for dozens of stories. All that this movie does is open the door and show a few short stories that take place inside it. Honestly, it wasn’t a strong start, but I hope Besson will create more Valerian stories because I do like this universe. Let’s just hope that DeHaan and Delevingne will grow into their roles and that their connection will be explored in a better way.