The success of the Frenchman’s last movie, Lucy, finally gave him the chance to bring the “inter-dimensional” space cops from his favourite comic book series to the big screen.
Working outside the studio system with a record-breaking £150 million budget (the biggest ever for an independent film), has allowed the 58-year-old to attack the project like a kid with the keys to his favourite sweetshop.
His dazzling opener delivers a crash course in the comic books’ mythology – from first contact to the 28th century and a planet- sized space station that’s home to 8,000 alien species. Other memorable moments include a heist that unfolds in two separate dimensions, Rihanna popping up as a shape-shifting stripper and Cara Delevingne shoving her head up a psychic jellyfish’s backside.
It’s quite a spectacle and for a while the director’s enthusiasm is infectious. But it doesn’t take long for the stomach cramps and the headaches to kick in.
For all it’s slick CGI, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets feels like it was made by a schoolboy. The pacing is all over the place, the plot is achingly formulaic and the dialogue is dire.
It’s a film of a thousand mistakes and Besson’s arrogant decision to pen his own script is the biggest.
Let’s begin with his mouthful of a title. The graphic novels that inspired the director are called Valérian et Laureline, so if you’re going to take the heroine out of the equation, you’d better make sure we can really root for the hero.
But Dane DeHaan’s space swashbuckler is a weedy and utterly charmless creep who seems more interested in trying to cop off with his partner than saving the universe.
Now DeHaan is a decent actor – he was great as a murderer in Kill Your Darlings, as a psycho in Chronicle and as the mad villain in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But no-one has called him the new Harrison Ford.
At one point he asks Delevingne on a date and cracks what I can only assume is supposed to be a seductive grin. It looks like he’s just decided what to serve with the main course – fava beans and a nice chianti.
“Why has a plot this thin been spread out over a bum-numbing, patience-sapping 147 minutes?”
Delevingne, who spends half the film in a bikini and the other half in a spacesuit festooned with giant boobs, gamely tries to breathe some life into a barely-written character. But lines like “you are afraid of commitment”, were probably always going to be dead on arrival.
So who is this for? The cutesy creatures and the garish colours suggests it’s a kiddie flick. So why is Ethan Hawke playing a space pimp? And as Clive Owen is clearly the English baddie from the off, do we really need to see him torture that extra from Avatar?
Most importantly, why has a plot this thin been spread out over a bum-numbing, patience-sapping 147 minutes?
I suspect Besson knew his audience very well – he made it for himself. And it’s that self-indulgence that has torpedoed all hopes of a hit franchise.
He may have dreamed of launching the next Star Wars but he’s served up another helping of Spaceballs.