In Luc Besson’s sci-fi adventure set in Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets, special operatives Valerian and Laureline must find a dark force that is threatening the city and safeguard the future of the universe. There is clearly a large amount of ambition in this film that we don’t see in many movies today, and Luc Besson had a huge vision of this universe he adapted to the big screen from a French comic book series. The CGI effects in this movie are excellent, and many shots are incredible to look at. The setting of Alpha, which has planets with many different looks, is brought to life beautifully and feels like something out of a Star Trek or Star Wars movie, and so is a magnificently looking scene towards the beginning which feels almost like something out of Avatar. However, when put together with the pratical sets and effects in the film, which are minimal, that’s when the visual appeal often comes off as messy, since it’s so easy to tell what’s real and what’s fake. The action gives some great entertainment, especially when put together with the visuals, and Besson also knows what music to use in certain scenes, including some of my favorite songs like “Space Oddity” and “Stayin’ Alive”. The part the film struggles most with is the plot. The story starts off fine and somewhat exciting, but eventually more plot points get thrown in until it gets too convoluted to enjoy. I wasn’t expecting much from the trailers but at least I was able to get some entertaining sequences. I liked Besson’s approach to the world building and visual environment of the film, but the script fails to bring anything humurous or original like it tries to be. There is a plot twist thrown in towards the end of the movie that I saw coming from miles away, and although I understood the message Besson tried to convey with what is actually happening in the film, the villain reveal was extremely predictable from the moment I saw that character on screen. The original comic books inspired the look and feel of the classic 1977 Star Wars, and this movie actually had good potential to become another great intergalactic film franchise in that same genre, but with the underwhelming writing and poor critical and box office performances, I highly doubt that will happen.
The main characters of Valerian and Laureline could have been wonderfully thought of protagonists, and I bet they are that way in the source material. Unfortunately, we are given no backstory on who these characters are and how they met, and the chemistry between the two lead actors is weak, as the romantic development between them and the development of them as the “buddy cop” duo of the film is unimaginative and hard to care for. Cara Delevingne was well-cast and delivered an amusing performance as the badass female character who has lots of heart, but Dane DeHaan is miscast and failed to deliver in the titular role. He gave the role his best, and he’s not a bad actor, but the role didn’t suit him as I didn’t feel like I could connect at all to the character with the lack of emotion he brought. Rihanna thankfully didn’t have a big role in the movie, and although her character has a fun concept and a cool scene in which she’s introduced, don’t expect this to be too big of an improvement on her awful performance in Battleship, in terms of acting. There’s also a certain well-known actor in the movie that the trailers did a good job of hiding, and although he’s more talented than all the other actors in the film, he’s completely wasted in a small and forgettable role. This movie tries to be huge, as this is both the most expensive European and independent film ever made. That may sound like this movie promises big things, but it’s ultimately crammed and although often entertaining, I did not find myself too impressed by Valerian, besides for the great CG-visuals.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has tons of great ambition and visual effects, as well as some very surprisingly entertaining scenes, but the plot and cast distract from the good this film has to offer, and make this movie an uninspired, although somewhat delightful mess that will only truly satisfy those looking for good action and terrific visual appeal.