It must be nice being Luc Besson, stuck at the age of 14 for the past 44 years. With the notable exception of his 2014 sci-fi action flick, Lucy, Besson's later career hasn't had quite the same glow as its start: the deep-sea worlds of The Big Blue (1988) and Atlantis (1991), and the stylishly submerged, subterranean universe of Subway (1985). But the central dynamic in his work remains true. Character and complexity continue to elude him. Other filmmakers might dwell on "What happens next?" and "What does it mean?" Besson, more than just about anyone else, answers the child's eternal question: "What's it like?"
This phenomenon pretty much defines Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film of overwhelming vision and silliness that Besson has apparently been wanting to make since he was 10 -- actually, literally 10 -- and first discovered Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières' groundbreaking French comics Valerian and Laureline. Few other directors could show you how it feels to be a purple-gray alien waking up beside a beach on the far side of the universe, to stretch in the morning light of a strange planet's many suns and wash your face in a bowl of space pearls. He connects on that level rather than through storytelling: When those aliens are soon engulfed in cataclysm, we still don't know much about them, but we mourn the cornea-caressing beauty of what Besson has just shown us and then snatched away. Valerian is at times so mind-meltingly beautiful and strange that I'm still not sure I didn't just dream it all. As for characters and story, there isn't a whole hell of a lot to say.