One of the best things about science fiction is it can give filmmakers permission to get weird. French director Luc Besson doesn’t need anyone’s permission to get weird, but when he does dabble in sci-fi, you know you’re unquestionably in for an eye-popping, oddball treat.
The most prominent example of Besson’s sci-fi style is “The Fifth Element,” a movie that is as joyously strange as it is divisive. His latest movie, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” is cut from that very same cloth and the result is a movie that is glorious to look at, bursting with originality and riddled with enough plot holes and idiosyncrasies to make you want to pull your hair out if you stop and think about them.
“Valerian” is based on the French comic book “Valerian and Laureline” and is set in the distant future where handsome and confident military officer Maj. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his stunning and brilliant partner Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) tool around the universe righting wrongs and being attractive.
Duty calls them to a massive space station called Alpha, which is inhabited by creatures from all over the galaxy (hence the titular City of a Thousand Planets). There, they uncover a dark conspiracy involving the destruction of a peaceful, benevolent species.
There are some fun cameos from Clive Owen as a buttoned-up commander, Rihanna as a shape-shifting alien, Ethan Hawke as some sort of cowboy space pimp, and John Goodman as the voice of an alien gangster.
But, more than anything, “Valerian” is about spectacle and surprise, as you never know what kind of freako awaits our heroes around the next corner.
DeHaan and Delevingne are respectable and have decent chemistry together and there’s a nice, humanistic, love-conquers-all undercurrent throughout the film.
This is not to say this movie doesn’t have its issues and I’ll be the first to admit it’s not for everyone. But what it is, is the singular vision of a talented director letting his freak flag fly. In my book, that’s a movie worth signing up for, warts, space pimps, and all.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material, and brief language.