Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review
By Rob Jefchak
Luc Besson is a director I’m quite familiar with. He’s a sci-fi filmmaker with a truly unique vision and talent for unusual visuals in his films. Besson is also responsible for one of my absolute favorite sci-fi movies ever (The Fifth Element) and also one of the worst sci-fi films I had the displeasure of seeing (Lucy). Now he’s back, adapting a science fiction graphic novel from France that is over 50 years old; a passion project he’s been trying to get off the ground and onto the big screen for some time. Much as I love anyone who has a passion project (Deadpool), Luc Besson is a 50/50 kind of director. His weirdness works and then other times it falls flat and you’re wondering what you’re watching. Where does “Valerian” fall into? Let’s find out.
In the 28th century, there is a city of collective planets and species called Alpha that is the pinnacle of peace throughout the galaxy and harbors a great deal of intelligence, science and cultures together. However, a dark secret leading a mysterious evil that annihilated an entire planet is lurking somewhere in the heart of Alpha. Special space operatives Vaerlian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are hired by Commander Arun (Clive Owen) to investigate the threat lurking inside of Alpha and to put a stop to it. What the two operatives find is a conspiracy involving aliens, genocide, mysticism, magic and other forces that could threaten every living being on Alpha if not stopped first.
The thing about passion projects is, usually it’s an idea or source material the director and writers have loved since childhood and the idea of seeing that material or idea put on screen is the biggest high anyone could ask for. However, “Valerian” put so much passion into all the visuals, the special effects and creating this unique system of aliens living together in this one mega city, that I think the director forgot to put passion into anything else. There are certainly some great ideas in here, things that would have been even better if other areas were cut down or at the very least; made comprehendible. There’s a lot going in this movie, a lot of threads and elements that are smashed all together and arranged in an attempt to make everything relevant and linear, the amount of focus though on which parts are relevant gets heavily skewed.
DeHaan and Delevingne
DeHaan and Delevingne make an interesting team and it’s that team up aspect that grabbed my attention the strongest. They’re a fun pair that barrels through the craziest crap, all while bickering in a will they/won’t they relationship that keeps things fun and interesting…for the most part. Our space agents tend to lose their luster when the limelight is bogged down by every computer special effect in the book (and then some). There are far too many concepts and weapons and aliens were trying to adjust to, we don’t have time to really process anything else; and the “big secret” behind everything is far too predictable to be worth all the clues and hype the movie builds up. It’s like Besson is trying too hard to create a more jacked up version of “Lucy” and “Fifth Element”, without taking enough time to see if there’s enough room or interest for these mixed properties to function properly together.
The biggest problem is the film has poor pacing topped with even poor balance displacement. The film cuts between what Valerian and Laureline are doing for a lengthy period time, but then cuts back to space military personnel trying to dig up the clues to the oh-so-obvious mystery and cuts that time in half; rushing back to Valerian and Laureline. I know it’s they’re movie and all but it creates a sense of off balance that the movie never really recovers from. Another glaring flaw amongst all the glittery CGI is the terrible misuse (or flat out weird use) of some of its bigger star names. Clive Own is barely seen or utilized despite his significance to the plot, Rhianna kind of shows up and Ethan Hawke’s role is too bizarre to explain or understand. It’s during his character’s introduction that things veer into a weird, nonsensical zone. I didn’t get it, I don’t care if it’s supposed to be artistic or the director gets it, it’s still a heaping pile of weak weird sauce.
Overall, “Valerian” is all flash and is chock full of sloppy substance in about every area other than the effects. The good elements don’t get nurtured properly, the better actors get sidelined or turn into eccentric gimmicks and all the fancy visual flare doesn’t change the fact the plot just isn’t as bright or as stunning. It’s clear where all the money went on this film and it’s also clear where all the effort didn’t go on this film.
I give “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” 2 stars out of 4.