Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a sci-fi/action movie from French filmmaker Luc Besson based on the also French comic Valérian and Laureline – which is honestly a better sounding title. Set in the 28th century, two romantically involved special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arrive on the titular city of a thousand planets known as Alpha on a mission to identify a mysterious dark force and eliminate it. The only Luc Besson movie I’ve seen is Lucy, so I didn’t go into Valerian with high expectations, and I was right to do so because this movie is not of the highest quality.
Valerian has the spectacle nailed down. Even though the special effects could have been worse, they still aren’t amazing—the same case follows for the creature designs. Additionally, an independently funded French movie that cost over $200 million in American money would have benefit from a larger use of practical effects. Thierry Arbogast’s colorful cinematography complements these visuals and potentially makes them look better than they truly are. The action scenes are cool since they’re at least creative and fun to watch; they move at a steady pace and don’t overextend their visit which makes them worthwhile. I wasn’t surprised that the screening I attended was in 3D because it’s a major part of the marketing, but while some objects did pop out of the screen, this format once again feels unnecessary and gimmicky. Alexandre Desplat’s orchestral score is one of the movie’s more memorable elements (no pun intended) because it provides some much needed epicness (why did he drop out of scoring Rogue One?). Editing is another way in which the flaws become present since the transitions from one location to another can often appear as jarring.
The movie features a talented cast, but they aren’t all used effectively. Cara Delevingne gives the best performance and I’m honestly shocked, based on her past work. Her charming and charismatic portrayal isn’t my favorite of the year but it’s still better than Enchantress in Suicide Squad. Dane DeHaan plays his usual snarky asshole role from two movies that I’ve seen him in—Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2—except that this time he’s somewhat sympathetic which consequently makes him more likable. Both leads play well off each other but the movie desperately wants the audience to care more about them than they should. Several well-known actors including John Goodman, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer, and Elizabeth Debicki appear and all give good performances but aren’t given much to do and seem to only be there for the sake of having an A-list ensemble. Conversely, I was not looking forward to seeing Rihanna act having not seen her done so before, and as I feared, her character is the closest thing to being a slightly less annoying Jar Jar Binks.
One word I would use to describe this movie is “ambitious”, but not in a satisfying way. That’s not to say it doesn’t feature interesting ideas, but they aren’t well utilized and feel derivative of much better science-fiction films such as The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Minority Report, among others. The comic supposedly influenced the original Star Wars film; unfortunately, the movie gives more prequel vibes than it needed to because of the similarities between certain scenes from this movie and that trilogy. Valerian is also incredibly predictable; I could see certain plot points unfold from a mile away. Unresolved subplots constantly meander the main story, interrupting the pacing of an already 137-minute movie that becomes harder to ponder as it progresses. Overly cheesy dialogue also bogs Valerian down. One example is when Laureline puts a pearl in a creature’s mouth causing more pearls to come out of it and she responds, “I could use you for shopping”—as if Besson was trying to sound clever. Some people may enjoy this sort of movie but a better screenwriter could have made it more accessible to a wider audience.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets didn’t make me want to read the source material as much as it made me want to look at Luc Besson’s better movies. While this one features stunning visuals and decent lead performances, its forgettable screenplay and wasted supporting actors will keep me from a second viewing. Does anyone honestly think this movie will make its $200 million budget back when it’s opening against Dunkirk?