Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Luc Besson has been delivering uniquely insane action movies for his entire career with things like The Fifth Element and the recent Lucy and now, with a massive budget that is not tied to any major studio, his imagination is fully unleashed in the visually spectacular but ultimately hollow Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Based on the beloved French comic series, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is a special agent in the 28th century partnered with Laureline (Cara Delevigne) who complete missions for the government of Alpha, a massive space station that houses millions of beings from thousand of different planets.  After recovering a rare item from a inter-dimensional marketplace, the Commander of the Federation (Clive Owen) is kidnapped by mysterious aliens and Valerian and Laureline have to descend into Alpha and get him back.  The main issue with Valerian (the movie) is that it really loses the thread of the plot after the Commander is kidnapped and there’s a lot of tangents and side missions that really have nothing to do with anything going on and really kill the momentum and urgency of the situation.  For instance, there’s a huge sequence in the middle where Laureline is kidnapped by a group of bizarre, chubby aliens who only allow others of their own species into their area and Valerian has to figure out a way in that involves recruiting a shape shifting alien, played by Rihanna, to get in and rescue Laureline.  This entire segment has literally nothing to do with the kidnapping plot and just feels like a random issue of the original comic.  Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevinge also have zero chemistry and never sell the flirty bickering that is supposed to be the driving force of their relationship and it just starts in a weird spot with Valerian aggressively trying to get Laureline to marry him.  The dialogue also doesn’t help, with both actors having to deliver some absolute clunkers numerous times throughout the film. I haven’t really been a fan of anything either of the main duo has done either so maybe someone else will be sold by everything they do here but I definitely was not. The ending is also pretty anticlimactic and unsatisfying, with a massive exposition/reveal dump and cliche “stop the bomb from going off” threat.

The one reason Valerian might be worth seeing, despite the plotting and character issues, is that it is visually amazing.  Luc Besson has come up with an almost never ending series of crazy, cool, never before seen aliens and ideas that are brought to life with some fantastic CG.  There’s an incredible montage to kick off the movie that details hundreds of years of humanity building Alpha and making contact with various and incredibly unique alien species and the aforementioned inter-dimensonial marketplace is an awesome idea that leads to a really fun opening action sequence as Valerian gets his gun and and hand stuck in the other dimension via a special device and has to figure out how to get it out while running through the marketplace, which without special goggles looks like nothing but an empty desert.  The visual style is like The Fifth Element on crack and if you don’t mind style over substance, Valerian might be worth checking out just to see Luc Besson’s insane vision on the big screen.

Valerian is a really mixed bag of a movie.  On the one hand, everything looks incredible and it has some really awesome and fun sci-fi ideas, technology and alien designs but on the other hand the main duo is not very interesting and the plot is not compelling at all.  It probably comes down to how much you appreciate cool visuals and it’s probably worth it if that’s what you want but there’s better movies like War for the Planet of the Apes and Spider-Man: Homecoming out now as well that are, to me, much better choices.

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