Masterful French filmmaker Luc Besson created an incredibly stylish world void of depth and substance with his 1997 cult-film The Fifth Element, and now, 20 years later, he manages to pull off the exact same thing with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Valerian looks great, but it’s basically Star Wars on INSERT DRUG OF CHOICE. Once you get past the state of the art visuals the dreadful characters, plot, and the acting will harsh your high and you’ll nod off to sleep. The film blows its proverbial wad with the first 20 minutes or so. We get an awe-inspiring sequence to the tune of David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity” as we watch the progression of a space station throughout the centuries as they encounter new alien life forms in a diplomatic way. Next, we’re introduced to a tribe of aliens who are basically the beach bum version of the Na’avi from James Cameron’s Avatar. It’s a harrowing scene of genocide that had me at the edge of my seat and blown away by the computer generated effects.
“…it’s basically Star Wars on INSERT DRUG OF CHOICE.”
Right after that is when the film fell apart for me. We’re introduced to our two leads, Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline played by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, respectively. I think DeHaan has it in him to turn in some really nuanced and compelling performances, but here he’s devoid of any charm and charisma. There’s nothing fun about his portrayal, and the only insight we get into Valerian is that he essentially has a history with bedding women and he wants to throw it all away to marry Laureline. DeHaan and Delevigne has absolutely no chemistry together, and the only reason I know the two cared about each other is because the script took every single opportunity to remind me that Valerian wanted to get married. Delevigne has consistently been a bore in everything I’ve ever seen her act in, and Valerian is no exception. Pop star Rihanna shows up as a distracting shape-shifting alien for a few minutes before thankfully exiting the film. Her character is pretty pointless and insignificant.
I haven’t gone into the plot because; quite frankly it’s just not very memorable. Basically Valerian and Laureline take turns getting kidnapped, and they have to find each other. There are action set pieces that propel them forward in search of Commander Arun Filitt (played by Clive Owen). Commander Filitt is supposed to be a character conflicted by the impossible choices he’s had to make, but he just comes off as an unreasonable douche. It’s a fault in the script that I don’t care enough about who these characters are, and what their relationships are to one another are supposed to be. It’s another fault in the script that its plot is too basic and predictable for me to feel fully engaged.
“It’s a fault in the script that I don’t care enough about who these characters are…”
As far as creature and world design goes, it’s simply wonderful. Valerian is based on a late 60’s French comic book called Valérian and Laureline; the series has a long reaching influence in so many science fiction franchises we all hold in such high regard. Sadly, those who don’t know may see things and feel it’s just a rip-off of other more well-known and successful films. With such strong visuals and familiar aesthetics it could have been something special if it just had a better plot, a better script, and more capable actors, but as it stands it’s just a pretty film to look at. I don’t usually recommend seeing films in 3D, but I’d definitely recommend this one, the universe in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one magnificent enough to lend itself to that particular format. Valerian is not a travesty, it’s just somewhat of a disappointment much like how I feel about Besson’s The Fifth Element; it has potential, but it just falls disappointingly short.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) Directed by: Luc Besson. Written by: Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières, Luc Besson. Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevigne, Clive Ownen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, John Goodman, Rutger Hauer.
6 out of 10