Published on August 6th, 2017 | by Curtis Mayfield
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Film Review
Reviewed by Curtis Mayfield M-H on July 27th, 2017
Entertainment One presents a film by Luc Besson
Written by Luc Besson (screenplay), Pierre Christin (comic book) & Jean-Claude Mézières
Produced by Luc Besson & Virginie Besson-Silla
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna and Ethan Hawke
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Edited by Julien Rey
Running Time: 137 minutes
Release Date: August 10th 2017
Did a whole bunch of movie directors miss out on going to space camp when they were kids? If that’s the case it would make sense with all the cosmic fairy tales we’ve received over the last few years. Some of those stories have triumphed (Gravity, Guardians of the Galaxy 1 & 2, Interstellar) while others just missed the mark (Passengers, Alien: Covenant). But what else can we expect from French filmmaker Luc Besson who often takes his audiences into the outer realms of time and space.
Besson is probably most famous for giving Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich a sci-fi backdrop to play in front of with the classic The Fifth Element (1997) and he rarely deals out any reality these days. After 2014’s lukewarm Lucy Besson is back with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a mega-budget passion project that brings young leading actors Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne together into what could either be a shooting star moment or a disastrous supernova. The outcome is a little from column A but a whole lot more from column B.
To begin to even try to explain the plot of this movie would be getting off on the wrong foot and would not be a good representation of this film, which also brings us to the movie’s biggest flaw. It looks as though Besson has tried to cram every aspect he loved from the original graphic novel into a two and half hour movie, which is admirable in some ways but also a big hindrance to us as an eager audience.
There’s Valerian (DeHaan), the most baby faced Major in the 26th century intergalactic human army, who, along with equally fresh-faced Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne), is in charge of keeping the universe a happy and safe place…at least safe for humans. There are many scenes of alien shops, homes and general personal spaces being violated by these two brash space cops. The pair slowly uncover a dark history of a peaceful planet of androgynous Avatar-looking creatures being exterminated and a parallel plot of more destruction. That’s about as far as any plot explanation will go here because anymore and computer screens and brains will fizzle up trying to comprehend what the hell is going on.
Visually speaking, this movie is a masterful example of what can be achieved with CGI. The 3D ticket price is worth it to witness Alpha, the UN of outer space pop out at you. Soaring through fantastical cosmic cities filled with bizarre and fascinating beings and seeing awesome sci-fi space tech and weaponry gives this movie enough juice to say it’s worth seeing on the big screen. The use of colour and what looks like meticulous set design makes Valerian a beautiful movie experience. It’s just everything else that drags this gorgeous space adventure down.
DeHaan is normally a fantastic actor. His roles in The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) and Life (2015) are proof of this but a charismatic action star he is not. With each monotone, clichéd line that comes out of the young talent’s mouth, the more the audience becomes alienated. Valerian’s hockey quips are just unbearable to listen to and hardly any of the other characters’ attempts at folksy slices of humour just don’t land. DeHaan is a charming actor but here he doesn’t display any superstar qualities that justify him being the lead in an action saga. Maybe the sequel to this movie should be about the search for whoever stole DeHaan’s charisma.
The same can be said about Delevigne who does her best circa 2009 Emma Stone impression to get through this bloated storyline, which amounts to two underdeveloped main characters. Both actors are far from terrible but they are definitely miscast in this one. The lack of chemistry between the two leads makes the love story between them seem really forced and awkward. Valerian is a macho space Michael Cera who’s afraid of commitment but will sleep with anyone in sight. Laureline jumps between being the voice of reason and reckless rogue in a single bound. Yikes this is tiring.
There are other questionable casting choices with Clive Owen playing the obvious secret baddie who, for some reason, just looks completely out of place amongst the computer-generated aliens and gadgets. Singer Rihanna makes a small but impactful appearance as a gooey blue shape-shifting stripper named Bubble who can change her appearance in a blink of an eye. Bad girl Rih Rih is yet to prove her worth as an actor so here’s hoping that Ocean’s Eight gets her out of singer/actor limbo. It is fun to see Ethan Hawke play the campy space pimp called Jolly but even that’s not enough to pull this movie out of the black hole its put itself in.
To Besson’s credit, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets doesn’t take anything away from the sci-fi genre but it doesn’t add a whole lot to it either. The visuals are the biggest thing going for this movie so see it if you’re keen to really switch that brain off and trip out on the cool colours and technology this movie offers (shout outs to the costume design team!). On paper, Valerian should be a great film. You’ve got a capable director/screenwriter with an endless inspiration of the weird and sometimes wonderful. Half the cast are made up of proven talents but would it have killed Besson to include a strong female lead that doesn’t have the distraction of being a pop singer or a Victoria’s secret model?
I’m sure Emma Watson could have put a lot more on the table if she was brought on board. Don’t be fooled by the marketing for this space romp either. Trailers will have you believe that this is a dark and moody noir story in space. It’s really a somewhat light film with cheesy dialogue and wooden acting. The bottom line is, go see this for the wonderful visual ride that it is, but please don’t expect much else from the characters or the plot.
Summary: Visually, Valerian is a beautiful movie experience. It’s just everything else that drags this gorgeous space adventure down.