Valerian: French Sci-Fi and Space Cowboys Does Euro Sci-Fi Inspire as much as American and Japanese Space Jocks?
Fanboy standards for space jockey adventures are usually American or Japanese sci-fi or fantasy movies and books. From Star Wars, Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy from the U.S., to franchise Japanese live-action Sentai and their Gundam robot pilot series, and even oddities like modern anime classic, Space Dandy, all have their unique charms for all of us who love a romp in space.
But what about European Sci-fi space adventure movies?
So far, Jupiter Ascending, by the Wachowski Brothers, was the most recent and alluring space opera Cinderella story offered to fanboys, with its magnificent bullet time hero shoot outs and variable geometry starship dogfights. But the Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis drama in outer space was received with mixed reviews, and may just be relegated as a cult favorite only among diehard sci-fi pulp movie fans. Which is OK too. No worries.
Now, we look at the latest movie, a French helmed space opera called Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Valerian is a riff off space jocks like Flash Gordon, Adam Strange, and Buck Rogers. From a time in the 70s when cowboys in outer space were boys' fetish heroes. The Valerian movie is an adaptation of that French graphic novel series by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, and Luc Besson, is the director.
The same director for the films The Professional where Natalie Portman was a tweener moll for an assassin, and The 5th Element, an alien Blade Runner riff with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich as human and alien couple. Besson took seven years to put together the film, adapting several new special effects CGI and camera technologies to make the eye candy even more candyhouse big daddy, comic book worthy.
Our space adventure starts with secret agents (aka space cowboys) Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) on a secret mission, picking up a priority package which turns out to be the last tamagochi dragon that can ooze any rock or gem fed to it, called a converter. Apparently, it can regurgitate and multiply a dazzling multitude of pearls--which are compact, calcified energy dense marbles that can power space ships and even cities.
The movie turns out to be a mystery-adventure surrounding the alien planet Mül, where inhabitants called Pearls are wiped out when a Human capital ships nukes an alien opponent (in a last ditch gambit to survive the most intense space fight you'll ever see since Ender's Game), which results in the enemy alien ship crashlanding into the planet Mül and destroying all life, including Mül itself. The King of the planet and his entourage are able to lock themselves up in a crashed Human cruiser ship right as the Alien mothership hit their planet for the mother of all nukies. Alas, his daugther was unable to join them and was incinerated by the blast wave and released her soul energy into the universe. Soul energy that found Valerian and chose him as its new home until such time that he could help the Pearls restore their civilization.
In the middle of the relatively linear narrative, we get to see the fat-marbled beef of any sci-fi movie worth its herky jerky:
A space station that starts from a U.S. and Russia collaboration, whidh slowly evolves into other human societies, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and then goes into overdrive with all sorts of alien cultures making first contact. The space station itself becomes the ultimate in LEGO-like construction, as thousands of races, both humanoid and alien build a hodge podge city of a thousand worlds in space, called Alpha.
Secret spy missions where Valerian and Laureline infiltrate an alien virtual bazaar (think of a shopping paradise like Hong Kong or Akihabara existing in two different dimensions) and steal the miniature puff dragon-rock converter, while being chased by a mafia of murderous smugglers and their wicked sick alien pit bull.
Chase scenes inside the eclectic maze of a crowded space station with campy star ships. And a kick-butt, eye-candy fleet action as the backdrop of a mysterious secret war over the planet Mul.
Valerian doing the customary Flash Gordon schtick, fighting all sorts of aliens with ray guns and scimitars and daggers, plus running around the space station to chase after alien kidnappers.
Rihanna performing a stunning pole dance, while shapeshifting into varous stripper-cosplay motifs (gothic French maid, slinky leather clad S&M dom, disco chick in roller skates, Marilyn Monroe inspired vamp, etc.) for Valerian (who needs her to shapeshift over him as a disguise to rescue Laureline from a nasty alien King with an appetite for flower girl motifs and human brains).
Not to mention the ongoing love-hate YA romance between Valerian and Laureline as part of the main story for female fans who really don't give a heck for the space cowboy drama, Luc Besson's movie performs admirably enough for a sci-fi fan to go back a second time and watch this year's big daddy candyhouse space opera film. Sure to be a cult hit with comci book fans who will be hoarding hardcopy when it becomes available, Valerian is THE space opera romance-slash-comic book movie that should be a part of your personal viewing collection in the future.
But first, go back to the moviehouse and watch Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne strut their stuff again, and twice more if you will. Remember, there may not be stuff like this again in the future if real life is as bleak and crappy right now.
Sure Valerian is cheesy as the best of them, and may even be boring if eye candy, space adventure isn't your guilty pleasure. But no other movie will be played more in sleepovers among the world's future space scientists and rocket ship engineers than Valerian, Just like Jupiter Ascending.