Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Rating

Director

Luc Besson

Screenplay

Luc Besson (Comic Books: Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières)

Length

2h 17m

Starring

Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Rutger Hauer

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language

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Review

Imagination and artistry can’t always replace capability and determination. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the kind of film that heaps on the inventiveness and creativity with only limited attention to competence and persistence.

Director Luc Besson is nothing if not imaginative. Although his previous film Lucy was predicated on a long-disproved scientific fallacy, his film The Fifth Element was a masterful use of form to create a unique universe populated with fascinating characters and events. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is as close to a return to form as we are likely to ever get from Besson.

Set more than half a century from the present, the Earth-orbiting International Space Station has grown and expanded giving the myriad races of the galaxy a place to unite and live peacefully, and allowing governments to coordinate freely and share scientific advancement. Now called Alpha, nicknamed the City of a Thousand Planets, has been invaded by a mysterious force that has the Human government worried. To investigate the matter, agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are pulled from vacation, specifically to embark on a mission to bring back the last Mül converter in existence. A Mül converter is a small creature that can eat anything and then slough off duplicates of whatever it consumed. The critter, from a long-ago-destroyed planet, provides the key clue to a massive conspiracy that threatens to unravel the peace and tranquility of the space station.

Besson attracts strong actors but can’t always extract strong performances. The Fifth Element sits as the best end of his talents while Valerian mires itself in the least. DeHaan and Delevingne are merely adequate. They lack the charm of prior Besson stars like Bruce Willis and best equate to the lackluster capabilities of Milla Jovovich, whose part feels like it was specifically written for an actor of limited talent.

While their bickering interaction is the best character element of the film, it’s not sufficient to make them seem like a destined romantic pair. Further to the film’s detriment is Clive Owen who is over-the-top as the commander while Rihanna and Ethan Hawke are merely fine in their cameo roles.

What ultimately sets the film apart is not its run-of-the-mill script, but the way this universe has been created. Besson’s brilliant imagination has concocted a most magical universe, one that is, admittedly, adapted from a prominent graphic novel. That fact shouldn’t dismiss the gorgeous settings, aliens, and costumes that have been boldly crafted for the film.

This is a movie where visual splendor is more important than narrative heft. The plot is pedestrian, but unfolds well, giving the audience hints along the way, but keeping the bulk of the revelations for the final act. That the film runs nearly two-and-a-half hours gives the viewer more to look at, but stretches the premise thinner than it needs to be. Tossing in the hackneyed love story makes the film feel like cheap male fantasy rather than comprehensive character study. Delevingne isn’t as narrowly-drawn as Leeloo (Jovovich) is in The Fifth Element, but that kind of growth, twenty years removed, is entirely inadequate.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, in spite of its sizable problems, is an engaging, entertaining and visually dazzling feature. It’s a feather in Besson’s cap even if he’s never able to secure the funding for such a project, or even a likely intended sequel, again. What it lacks in weight, it more than makes up for in artistic splendor.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Production Design, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects

Review Written

October 4, 2017

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