Cinematic Releases: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) - Reviewed

Luc Besson has never been a conformist. He does not live by any certain formula or studio structure. The man is a rule breaker. And he's a cinematic artist that just broke his vibrant palette as he reaches the peak of his career. 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a pinnacle of sorts. After decades behind the camera, he's finally brought his unruly galactic dream to the movies. It's absolute beauty transcribed to outlandish realms beyond our imagination. Much like Star Wars did when it was first released in 1977, Valerian changes the guidelines by which this genre exists. Amalgamating the adventurous fashion statements of his previous works with amazing costume design and glorious looking visual effects, this is easily the boldest genre piece of 2017. 

Besson's directorial scope has been an ever changing combination of the creatively fueled and the sometimes confused. Yet, the man is an unrelenting visionary that always puts his best foot forward in giving his audience strange and magnificent landscapes that are rendered with stunning colors and undeniable realism. His motion pictures are high on fashion and sometimes loose on dialogue. While the man has made some common missteps, his sights are way above board with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. And he scores at nearly every single turn. 

Using fresh actors that have never carried a full movie on their own and a massive story to finally bring this adventure to the silver screen, Besson delivers one of the biggest and boldest independent features to ever see the light of day. I would be remiss if I didn't state it clearly. This Valerian is the second coming of science fiction cinema. At this juncture, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and JJ Abrams have things to learn from Besson. He's upped the game. He's put them to shame with a project that rides a fine line of perfection that's only hampered by some clunky exposition and a few confused plot turns. 

First things first. Stop calling me New Leo. And damn it!
Go watch Chronicle already. Now back to spaceship flying. 

Who brought the drugs?

Over the past couple years, we've been handed the Wachowski's jumbled mess of Jupiter Ascending. We've relished in the return of Star Wars. Star Trek made its return to the theatrical realm. And Ridley Scott has tried to recapture the essence of the Alien saga. What's been mostly missing from those releases is a feeling of freshness. These franchises have been revisited so many times that they become old hat. We may be excited for their release dates but they ultimately retread familiar qualities and efforts we've all been through time and time again. Valerian changes all that. This is a grandiose, mega-picture that's a digitally rendered painting brought to the screen. Every single second of this movie presents something new to feast our eyes upon. Besson presents a full platter that's loaded with the stylistic flair of his Fifth Element, huge space sequences, and fresh planetary concepts. Valerian is a full course meal topped off by a special little cherry on top. It's actually great. 

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne have pitch perfect chemistry here. From early reviews, they were both taking an undeserved beating. Their comic routines feel human, never feeling forced or underutilized. DeHaan is a calm and collected mix of Han Solo's swagger and Luke Skywalker's boyish hero that takes himself way too seriously but never falters in playing it cool for his female counterpart. Cara impresses by escaping the trappings of her other roles and delivers a strong female character that doesn't play second fiddle to anyone. What's nice is that both leads get equal time on screen, giving each of them time to grow into their respective characters. 

Some were concerned that Besson was packing too much in to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Internet commentary was fearful of a movie too stuffed with effects, creatures, and environments. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this project is that there is definitely a lot going on and it all works. The puzzle pieces fit. It's actually the most vital part of this fantasy. Without thousands of different races of aliens, a massive construct of numerous worlds, and hundreds of expansive effects shots, this would be a dismal failure. 

For only the second time this summer season, I can easily say this movie will ultimately go down as Besson's best. Yes, the critical empire by which we live will try to tear it down. It's going to take a box office beating. But, this is what movie making is about. Valerian pushes the envelope. It alters our perception of how science fiction should be dealt with. Besson creates a two hour and fifteen minute production that once again infuses the genre with a massive dose of fun and experimentation that comes very close to overdosing but never really does.

If you don't see this movie, you're missing out on something special.