Stunningly Ambitious | Review of ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

By Cynthia Ayala

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen & Rihanna STX Entertainment Image Credit: IMDB

“A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.” —IMDB

Many of the critics have been a bit too harsh on the film, but I can personally see where they are coming from. I’m not a reader of the comic that this is based on, although I would like to be, especially after seeing this film. I will say this, while the visuals are stunning, the story at the end lends itself to predictability.

The story is easy enough to follow, there is something rotten in the earth government, something suspicious that has some people wondering what the heck is going on and what this secrecy has to do with this new invasion of a new alien species. But between the beginning and the end of the revelation, the story does produce some exciting and fun antics that allow for the dynamics between the characters to grow as well as allow the growth of the characters. But I’ll come back to that.

Visually, this movie is stunning. The special effects are amazing, making this the biggest reason to see this film on the big screen. The style of the film, from costumes to set design is incredibly reminiscent of the cult classic The Fifth Element. Looking at that now it’s so easy to see the influence of this story, of the original comic and how it influenced his artistic direction. It’s so clear to see the connection between the two films and that’s probably part of the problem. As a crowd, we see Luc Besson and the visuals and instantly connect this film back to the fabled Fifth Element, but the movies have nothing to do with one another. They both are set in the future, but other than that and the stunning visuals, there is nothing else connecting these two films. Besson is not recreating The Fifth Element, he is trying to bring to life his childhood, a comic he grew up reading that has influenced him greatly. As I have never read the comic I can’t wager in on whether he did so well or not, but that’s not the point here, the point is the fact that no one should go into this movie thinking it connects to The Fifth Element in any way, because that’s an easy way to get distracted and miss the importance of this film, the story going on here, and leave the door open for disappointment.

That being said, I will say this: the opening of the film is strong but then it falters. The lines are cheesy, the focus of the story falters and loses itself. Sure, the story repairs itself and the script stops being cheesy, but with such a strong opening is just tossed out like that in favor of crazy antics and cheesy dialogue does not help hook the audience to the overall plot. When it comes to writing, that over arcing plot can never be forgotten, but Besson lets it get overshadowed by inconsequential antics and scenes meant to be pretty and nothing else. Nevertheless, the story is uncomplicated and fun to watch.

Now lets look at the acting. As far as characters go, I liked Laureline much more than I liked Valerian. Valerian was just obnoxious and maybe he’s like that in the comics, but something about how he was brought to life was just annoying. I’m going to take a guess and say that it’s probably because the character was obnoxiously arrogant that made him unlikable to me whereas Laureline was just awesome in every way. She was strong, sympathetic, smart and thoughtful. It’s a perfect balance of characterization, to have a perfect team made perfect because they balance each other out so well, and Valerian’s attitude is probably helped in making me like Laureline even more so. It’s probably also the acting. Now, I love Dane DeHaan, but for most of the opening, it appears his heart wasn’t in the project as if he wasn’t really connected to the character. There’s no doubt that he’s a talented actor, but the beginning of the film offers up a stiff performance on his part, especially when put next to Cara Delevingne who seemed to connect to the part very well and had lots of fun with the project.

Overall, it’s an entertaining film. It’s not so obscenely terrible as most critics would have you think, and it does have some minor presentation problems, but overall, it’s enjoyable to watch. (★★☆☆ | B-)

—Film Credits—

Directed by Luc Besson

Screenplay by Luc Besson

Based on Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin & Jean-Claude Mézières

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu & Rutger Hauer

Rating | Length | Genre: PG-13 | 2h 17min | ActionAdventureFantasy

Distributed by STX Entertainment

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