Movie Review: Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets
PG-13 | 2h 17min
Director: Luc Besson
by Jason Koenigsberg
French director Luc Besson returns to science fiction with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. This is his first full blown futuristic science-fiction fantasy extravaganza since The Fifth Element was released twenty years ago. Valerian is also the most expensive European film of all time, and the biggest budget of any non-Hollywood studio film in history, a rare and unusual accomplishment. Very impressive that an original idea based on French sci-fi stories received such lavish treatment. Is this movie worth your time and money after all of the hundreds of millions invested in it? Kind of.
It opens up with ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie as we see actual footage of astronauts in space circa 1975, then it skips forward and keeping moving into the future as humans continue to build up a space station on the Earth’s orbit. After seeing all different human races and nations join the space station eventually extraterrestrials learn about it and peacefully become part of what becomes known as “The City of a Thousand Planets”. Flash forward several hundred years and we see a seemingly peaceful civilization that respects nature get wiped out by a foreign entity and then we meet our heroes, Valerian played by Dane DeHaan, and his girlfriend/work partner played by Cara Delevingne.
That is the first big mistake of Valerian, it’s casting. Dane DeHaan is incredibly boring. He plays his character like a cross between Matthew Fox on Lost and Andrew Lincoln on The Walking Dead only younger and surrounded by even crazier creatures and more exotic locations. Yet he is one of the blandest heroes in recent memory. Ms. Delevingne is beautiful and slightly more interesting than her male counterpart, but as usual with these films the male lead has the most exciting moments and the most responsibility to save the universe. One might wish Chris Pratt and his Guardians of the Galaxy friends could have beamed in and saved the day instead.
Alas, Valerian is not about the plot or the character development. This movie was designed to be eye candy of the highest regard and in that sense it delivers. Luc Besson’s vision of the future is bold and imaginative in every frame. A lot of the costumes, set design, and action scenes look like they came straight out of The Fifth Element. But that is a good thing since his previous science-fiction adventure was so exciting and astonishing it holds up two decades later. Here Besson just takes his visual ideas and dials them up to eleven. He fills the screen with CGI characters and settings that are mini wonders to behold. If you can turn off your brain from being analytical, Valerian is a bold, inventive and overall fun space adventure. Even the 3D enhances the experience transporting you to the imaginative worlds Luc Besson has created. It is kind of like Avatar-light.
The plot itself and the main characters are mundane archetypes that do not do a good job selling the story, the visuals are what sucks the audience in. Plus, some of the action scenes in the middle get repetitive and the audience feels bogged down seeing a lot of the same thing. Valerian is not as amazing of an experience as James Cameron’s Avatar, nor is it as thoroughly entertaining as Luc Besson’s own Fifth Element, but if you can shut down your brain for a couple hours and just sit back and feast your eyes on the glorious visuals, Valerian is worth seeing on the big screen.
This was a conflicted review and a very marginal thumbs up. If you have not seen The Fifth Element, do yourself a favor and seek it out as soon as possible.