Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” sports a reported budget of around $200 million, but seems cheaper.
It has the mood of an enthusiastic kid playing in the backyard, inspired by popular space operas and alien escapades.
In other words, “Valerian” is a jaunty, bright, dizzy sci-fi film of imagination and dazzle, following in the skywalking footsteps of the old, original “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” adventures.
Inspired by a French comic series by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the movie is set somewhere in the 28th century. The title city is called Alpha, and it consists of a mass of ships from all over the universe, docked together and sharing each other’s knowledge.
Faithful agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his intrepid partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are the co-heroes.
Unfortunately, there is some kind of radiation trouble at Alpha’s core. It’s related to a mysterious race of extinct aliens, small creatures that can replicate matter and corrupt officials.
Fortunately, it’s all an excuse for Valerian and Laureline to rush headlong into trouble, rescue each other, and get into chases and escapes.
Their stops include a giant marketplace that exists in an alternate dimension, a red light district — where pop star Rihanna plays a pole-dancing shape-shifter — and a realm where humans are forbidden, and where a cranky, hungry creature rules.
In a weirdly old-fashioned, screwball subplot, Valerian keeps asking Laureline to marry him, and she continually brushes him off.
DeHaan has an intense, brooding quality that serves him well in films like “Kill Your Darlings,” “Metallica: Through the Never” and “A Cure for Wellness,” but doesn’t quite translate into a Han Solo-like cocky swagger here. He tries too hard.
Delevingne, on the other hand, is no great thespian, but she is a pretty fashion model, and she brings a kind of “Barbarella”/”Galaxina”-like cheesy sex appeal to her plucky Laureline.
Writer-director Besson has lately become something like a 21st century Roger Corman, or a one-man Golan & Globus, cranking out tons of genre films, some (such as the “Transporter” trilogy and “Lucy”) quite good.
And he always delivers fluid, lucid action and bright, vivid color (bucking the current trend for a gray, sludgy look).
Granted, “Valerian” is not particularly smart, and it’s way too long; it can’t keep up its bouncy fun for a bladder-busting 137 minutes. Even so, a little forgiveness goes a long way with this one.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna
Written and directed by Luc Besson
Running time 2 hours, 17 minutes