Thursday, 17 August 2017

Movie review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, dir Luc Besson (2017)

The movie opens with a dream about a paradise lost that is dreamt by major Valerian (Dane DeHaan), a government agent who teams up with colleague sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to reclaim a stolen animal whose value lies in the fact that it can replicate anything, and that he had already seen in the dream. The two successfully complete their mission and return to space station Alpha where they find a bigger challenge, as authorities strive to control a foreign presence that has taken the form of an unknown force at the centre of the orbiting habitation. But motivations are not at all clear and when Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) is kidnapped Valerian and Laureline must follow the trail that is laid into parts of the conurbation that most people living in it have never seen.

There are hundreds of strange beings and thousands of unlikely events in the movie, far too many to catalogue one by one. And who would want to do that anyway? Suffice it to say that the creators of the story have let their imaginations roam through many alternate realms of being. From the opening world which is a complex hologram transforming a desert community into a vast marketplace, to the depths of Alpha with its specialised lifeforms and varied microcosms, the possibilities for creativity are endless. The filmmakers have capitalised on the freedom the original comic series offered to them and have made something weird and exceptionally wonderful. But this is also a serious movie, which is what we have come to expect from science fiction generally; difficult ideas about intercultural relations, politics, human rights, and diversity are explored in the course of the movie, as Valerian and Laureline battle with a variety of curious enemies and work alongside an equally curious array of allies.

Love is central to the story, of course. What else would you expect from an action drama? And in exploring the complex relationship that develops between Valerian and Laureline, the movie's creators have given themselves permission to elaborate on other themes, such as forgiveness, truth-telling, and tolerance. At the centre of the nexus of such ideas the two protagonists encounter a space where they can reach out to each other, and find a safe haven for powerful and universal human emotions.

There's plenty of humour as well in this movie, of a sophisticated and subtle kind, as well. No lifeform is too strange or aberrant that the movie's creators cannot find something redeeming about it, and here we find they have taken opportunities to create a kind of laughter that resists the urge to stigmatise in the absence of understanding. All kinds of creatures are invited to belong in the vast community on Alpha, and thrive within the panoptic clasp of Besson's powerful vision. An outstanding movie that can satisfy any taste, young and old.

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