When it comes to crafting daring, truly strange sci-fi/action hybrids on an epic scale, nobody does it better than César-award-winning multi-hyphenate Luc Besson. The cinematic madman behind such one-of-a-kind magnum opuses as The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional and Lucy, Besson has been making game-changing genre hybrids since he burst onto the scene with his shimmering ode to post-punk alienation in the Paris underground in 1985’s Subway. Since then, Besson has co-written all three films in the hugely-popular The Transporter and Taken franchises and even penned a children’s book (Arthur and the Minimoys) which he later adapted to the big screen as the animated/live-action oddity Arthur and the Invisibles in 2006.
Weird, wonky, and above all else, wildly ambitious, Besson’s films might not always make sense (or money, for that matter) but they always look great and they are never boring. And though Besson’s latest effort, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, crashed and burned in high style at the box office this summer, it is still well worth watching, especially for fans of truly mind-expanding sci-fi.
Based on the classic French graphic novel series by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, Valerian is the story of 28th century special operatives Valerian (played by Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Paper Towns and Pan’s Cara Delevingne), and their ongoing mission to save the universe from bad guys.
When the heart of the massive deep space station Alpha – where millions of aliens from thousands of planets have peacefully co-existed for generations – is threatened from within by a highly-toxic virus of unknown origin, Valerian and Laureline are put on the case by their hard-charging superior, Commander Filitt (Clive Owen). But the mystery deepens when Valerian finds himself haunted by an apocalyptic vision of a planet in peril that might just hold the key to Alpha’s salvation.
Featuring typically bizarre (and totally Bessonian) supporting turns from everyone from Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer and a virtually unrecognizable Ethan Hawke to Grammy winner Herbie Hancock, Valerian also gives R&B hitmaker Rihanna her meatiest onscreen role to date. Playing a doomed, shape-shifting dancer who helps Valerian and Laureline unravel the mystery at the core of the film, Rihanna shines in a juicy, starmaking turn that is tailor made for her unique gifts as an artist.
The film’s oft-sited $180 million budget – which makes Valerian not only the biggest budgeted non-American Film of all time, but also the most expensive independent film ever! – seemed to dominate the conversation in the press this summer. But Besson fans will surely rejoice in the fact that every penny of that budget is vividly on display onscreen.
In fact, Besson packs so much multi-color awesomeness into every frame that I recommend watching Valerian more than once just to soak it all in. And if the film’s wacky comedy and labyrinthine storyline prove to be a little too much for you, I can tell you from first-hand experience that Valerian also makes for a pretty stunning screensaver – particularly on long-haul flights! – so, simply mute the sound and enjoy the show.
Now playing on select Virgin Atlantic, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, and Air Canada flights worldwide, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is also available via streaming at Google Play, Amazon Video and iTunes.