Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Sam Spruell, Rihanna
Film Review by Kieran Freemantle
Based on the comic book series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets was a passion project for French writer/director Luc Besson and with a budget of €197 million it is the most expensive French film ever made. In the 26th Century the space station Alpha serves as a universe wide example of co-operation: a place for alien races to share knowledge and resources. Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are secret agents who have a flirtatious relationship - but Valerian starts to have visions of a planet being destroyed and when the inhabitants appear on Alpha they seem to be a threat that the agents need to stop. The best aspect of Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets is it has created a compelling world and made me want to see more of it. There was a tremendous opening montage showing the birth of Alpha which started off as a space station orbiting Earth and being made of compartments from the various nations of Earth before the alien races become a part of it. It's a great montage set to David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' and this setup could have easily have worked for a franchise like Doctor Who or Star Trek. The aliens are also imaginative and do look like they are from another world - beings ranging from aquatic races to robots. Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets is a big space opera and the money is up on the screen. There is a lot of CGI, it bright and colourful and at times really campy. However, the CGI was in uncanny valley territory. The aliens are well designed and eclectic but they never looked like they were really standing with the humans and some of the settings, like a desert planet and the planet of Mül, looked like they were from an animated film. If Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets was an animated film it would have been fantastic but the live action actors didn't mesh with the aliens and their surroundings. It won't be challenging Avatar and The Planet of the Apes reboot franchise for special effects prizes.
Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets has been criticised for its screenplay and most of them are warranted. The plotting is like a videogame: after the montage the film was pretty much non-stop action. The first action sequence involving Valerian and Laureline show them trying to infiltrate a market on another plane of reality and whilst inventive could have been the concept for a videogame. as the film progresses it lurches into different action sequences. However, I will take having videogame plotting over what Besson achieved in Lucy where the main character became a god.
An example of this video game plotting is when Valerian goes missing, Laureline has to find him by going into Alpha's sea to find a jellyfish that could give her a psychic connection to her partner. This is then followed by Laureline getting captured by a group of aliens and the only way for Valerian to save her is to find a glamour-bot. Besson is known as an action director and he does produce some solid sequences. One of the best is when the white-skinned aliens attack the leadership of Alpha and Valerian has to give chase. It started with a special forces raid, moves into Valerian becoming a superhero smashing through walls followed by a sequence a bit like Star Wars and the reboot Star Trek films. Although it is unbelievable to see a skinny woman like Cara Delevingne beating up creatures two and three times her own size.
[SPOILER ALERT] The plot was also incredibly predictable - I personally guessed the big mystery and most of the major plot points within the first ten minutes. Clive Owen may as well have walked around with a neon sign saying 'I am the bad guy'.
It adds a little moral ambiguity but the audience only get to see a slice of the world of Alpha. For a film that was meant to be a passion project Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets could have been a bit more ambiguous with its story. Out of the two main cast members, DeHaan did look similar to his comic book counterpart. But his delivery was similar to Keanu Reeves which is disappointing for an actor who had such a great start in Chronicle. Delevingne is fine with the flirting and banter but she fails to convince as an action hero - her age and stature work against her. Even Owen, an actor I generally like, is in overacting mode and Valerian is not going to be a highlight of his career. Rihanna's character Bubble was the one who had the best arc in the film. She plays a shape-shifting alien who is held as a sex slave and Valerian offers to set her free if she helps the agent. Besson gets Rihanna to play to her strengths by letting her have a dance number in a variety of costumes. Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets was advertised as being from the director of Leon and The Fifth Element because Besson has not made anything of note since. Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets is the definition of a 'leave your brain at the door' film - it is perfectly entertaining as long you don't think about the plot. It's Besson best film since The Fifth Element but that is damning with faint praise. The world and the settling of Valerian would make a great videogame or anime series.
Watch the Movie Trailer below...