Luc Besson’s epic space saga Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets can be best described as an overly ambitious, beautiful looking mess.
Before going in, many people will be wanting to compare it to his classic, The Fifth Element (1997), and that’s where the problem will lie. Not only does it miss the mark, but The Fifth Element charm Besson tries to inject into Valerian falls completely flat, with some odd exceptions.
Valerian is based on a popular French comic book series that was first published in 1967, with the last issue released in 2010. So it goes without saying that Luc Besson had a lot of source material to play with, which shows, as he seems to have crammed as much as he could into the first of many films that he initially has planned. Going by this effort alone, it might be the only chance he gets.
One of the many problems lies in the adapted screenplay, with numerous scenes of exposition that never seem to go anywhere. This pattern continues until everything tries to wrap itself up halfway through the final act. If it wasn’t for the stunning visuals, there would be no reason to stay invested in what is going on.
Plot wise, an alien race is wiped out when a large group of damaged spacecrafts fall into their atmosphere, destroying their planet in the process. A wave of telekinetic energy passes from one of the aliens, across the universe to our antagonist, Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan), who sees the planet crumble. In a roundabout way, this leads him to find a pearl and a strange little creature that replicates items, which is one of the foundations of the destroyed planet’s resources. Thus begins a journey on many different paths where we kind of forget where we are going and why. Alongside Valerian is his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne), who follows Valerian in the quest to find the source of the pearl, and to answer why he’s having visions of a planet and alien race they didn’t know existed.
If all this sounds a little confusing, it’s simply because it is. The two leads wonder aimlessly through proceedings, trying very hard to make us believe they know what is going on. The lack of chemistry between them only makes it worse, especially a very uncomfortable looking Cara Delevingne. Dane Dehaan has proven he is actually a fine actor in earlier roles and fairs a little better, but only just. An underused Clive Owen pops up about halfway through, but is wasted until the climax. Ethan Hawke seems to be the only one trying to have fun in a small but amusing role, and you kind of wish all the other actors followed suit. Even Rhianna’s bazaar dance sequence feels out of place, and you wonder why it even needed to be in there to start with.
With all the convoluted proceedings aside, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets does have its moments. A chase sequence that involves jumping in and out of two separate realities is the film’s highlight, showing the imaginative flair that we know director Luc Besson possesses. You can’t help but admire the attention to detail visually in each shot, but it’s a shame that the story and characters do not hold a candle to it.
Try not to go in with Fifth Element expectations, and you may just enjoy it for what it is.
There are 200 different alien species in this movie. Luc Besson wrote a 600 page book describing in details all the species. The actors had to read that book prior to filming so they can adjust their acting depending on the species they were interacting with.