2014’s Lucy was a real sucker-punch of a release for distributor Universal Pictures. Riding high on her Avengers popularity, Scarlett Johansson’s name had never been worth more, and so Universal threw their considerable weight behind an ad campaign pushing Lucy as a late-summer sci-fi tentpole. The commercials sold Luc Besson’s picture as an off-brand futuristic superhero picture, showing off the awesome powers that ScarJo’s character develops after she’s enabled to use more than the standard ten percent of her brainpower. (The central placement of this common scientific misconception also contributed to this film’s reputation as dum-dum Tinseltown product.) She can move things with her mind, stop time, and even pull off bangs — Universal was hoping to find a new smash in what appeared to be a slightly hokey, but highly profitable venture.
Those not entirely turned off by the patent ridiculousness of the ten-percent brain myth had no idea what they were in for. Buying a ticket for Lucy was like walking through the gate of an amusement park and stumbling into a philosophy undergrad’s pot-reeking dorm room; the facade of Hollywood spectacle belied a madman’s ravings on being and eternity, the sort of unhinged material that can only make it into studio releases under deep cover. In this case, Scarlett Johansson’s star power was sufficient to disguise the fact that Lucy was completely bizarre. (Spoiler alert, but the film ends with our heroine turning into a swarm of black particles, instantaneously traveling back to the beginning of existence itself, and the vanishing into the space-time continuum.)
Luc Besson has now posted the first on-set photos from his Lucy follow-up Valerian, and in what should be to the delight of moviegoers everywhere, it looks like the director’s climbing to new heights of strangeness. Doubtless, whichever U.S. distributor picks the film up will play up its hot young stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, its fantastical visuals, and its reassuring comic-book origins. But from what we know about Besson and from the newly posted photos, audiences could be in for another big surprise.
For one, both Delevingne and DeHaan are pretty left-of-center for movie stars on the rise (I highly recommend Google image searching “Cara Delevingne makes weird face”) and the rest of the cast list could’ve been assembled by someone mid-stroke. Alongside Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke, Battleship star Rihanna and jazz legend Herbie Hancock fill out the cast list, making for one of the most eclectic casts this side of a Harmony Korine project. DeHaan exudes a weirdly effeminate chilliness in his performances, first making a splash with a decidedly mature turn on HBO’s late drama In Treatment as a self-destructive gay teen, and Delevingne is admittedly still figuring out her own style as an actress. This should give her much more to work with than 2015’s lackluster Paper Towns.
As with The Fifth Element, Besson will craft a faraway universe with free rein to indulge his oddest impulses. The alien-world exterior brings to mind memories of last year’s Jupiter Ascending, which should fill many viewers with dread and a specific sort of viewer with excitement.