FILM REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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

SYNOPSIS:

Space adventurers Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) set off on a mission to stop sinister forces from destroying Alpha, an intergalactic metropolis where thousands of alien species live together in harmony. Written and directed by Luc Besson, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a series of French comics by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. Clive Owen, Rihanna, Elizabeth Debicki, Ethan Hawke, and Rihanna co-star.

Even a veteran filmmaker has lessons to learn. Luc Besson is a legendary director- it says so in the Valerian promos! I do agree with that. The Fifth Element is beautiful, quirky fun. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like it could take place in the same universe as Fifth Element, but I wish it was as good.  In Valerian‘s very first scene, I got a good hint of what handicaps this film. Luc Besson takes us from the 21st century to a century later, when a space station has grown and evolved to Alpha, our titular city. Besson does a cute bit where we see different cultures coming together. Then it keeps going, and going, and going, and going. There are certain rules to humor, certain rules to comedy. For example, there’s the rule of three, where you list three items, and the third item is where the joke lies. If you list too many items, you run the risk of the joke bombing, because the length doesn’t feel natural. Luc Besson’s first joke goes on for a bit too long.

After our introduction to the city, Alpha, we get one of the most beautiful scenes of the film. Do you remember James Cameron’s Avatar? Some people were amazed by that film. I liked it, but I was not agape in wonder. While watching this scene, with the race of lanky aliens called Pearls, I felt like I was watching people who were real. The uncanny valley was astounding. There was barely any dialogue in the scene, until the last few minutes. We see a woman wake up and go about her day, which involves gathering these beautiful pearls. This ties directly into our hero, Valerian.

Valerian (Dane DeHaan, Chronicle) is a capable soldier, and a bit of a player. The Major is backed up by Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevinge, who is far more impressive in this than as the dancing witch in Suicide Squad), and their partnership is threatening to become more. Sometimes their playful banter is cute. At other times, it scores a zero. I am of the opinion that Besson’s most humorous characters are a lot sillier, a lot broader. The dry wit of Valerian and Laureline don’t work as well as other characters we meet. Examples include a trio of money-motivated aliens, who you can see in the poster. They have a cute triplet gimmick, and they are always funny. We also meet a character who pilots a submersible vehicle. He’s basically Jacques Cousteau- if Jacques Cousteau was also a pirate. He is in the film for only a few minutes, but every moment with him is well spent. The best moments of Valerian are when it’s very serious or very ridiculous. Any time we are in a scene for longer than necessary, Valerian is threatening to make the audience check how much time is left.

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One of the scenes that should’ve been more fun than it was is the first action scene. Like Luc Besson likes to do, he creates sci-fi technology that’s ridiculously specific. This time, I think he tries too hard with his “teleportation box.” I ended up being pretty bored with this scene, even though I was happy hearing John Goodman’s voice coming out of a gangster alien. Valerian is gorgeous, and makes this sci-fi, CG rich world feel real. The downfall is the film’s writer and director. You would think that Rihanna, an incredible performer/weak actor, was what would be the low. Luc Besson takes too much time with scenes that the audience does not care about, and refuses to wrap up the film, when he could’ve done so 5 minutes earlier.

I am saddened that this film will not do well in theaters, because we need something other than superheroes to cheer on once in a while. It’s not the audience’s fault. I went to see this film, and it was sold out. It was filled with young people, people willing to give this new world a shot. Luc Besson needed someone to tell him that idea B was better than A, or that a 2 hour run time would be plenty. At almost 2 and a half hours, I’ll say that you should wait for the film to be available in your home. If you still want to go to the theater in support of Valerian and Besson, then go in well-rested, and open minded.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets comes to the UK on the 2nd of August.

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewer: VichusSmith

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