Spending $200 million on Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is Luc Besson's sci-folly, too much for a fantasy that's gorgeous to observe yet torturous to sit through. "Too much" is Besson's signature move, so we shouldn't be surprised.
Based on a French comic book series, Valerian casts sleepy-eyed Dane DeHaan in the title role, a scrawny space jockey too confident in his charms; Han Solo's bratty kid brother. DeHaan is slightly more convincing as an intergalactic detective than model-turned-mannequin Cara Delevingne as his partner Laureline, whose impact can be gauged by her name's absence from the title. Neither wrestles Besson's clunky banter anywhere close to submission.
The titular city is international space station Alpha where a thousand (give or take) planets' evacuees live in teeming harmony. Their peace is explosively disturbed by mysterious invaders aided by an easy-to-guess mole inside the space station. This mini-galaxy needs guardians but Besson offers only a drowsy DiCaprio type and a pouty Bond girl circa Roger Moore.
Valerian and the Needlessly Long Title defies our instinct for something, anything to make sense. Besson's parade of soul melds and virtual realities is complexity as camouflage for the fact that little happens. The movie is a hamster wheel, motion going nowhere.
Well, almost nowhere. As with The Fifth Element, Besson has a knack for sci-fi eye candy, creating one geek-friendly screen saver after another. Popular choices may include Delevingne cramming her head into a giant space jellyfish to regain memory, Rihanna's virtual insta-makeover dance, or any shot featuring Ethan Hawke's sleaze-bag Jolly the Pimp. I'm partial to the "converter," the reason why everyone's running around: a pastel armadillo sweating pearls.
Such insane imagery amuses on some Barbarella/Zardoz level, at which goofy imagination and campy personality can overrule most complaints. Valerian displays reckless imagination and zero personality. That's the difference between a fun midnight movie and one that won't see the light of day for long.