Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
A Whole New World

In a box-office world dominated by sequels, reboots, and cinematic universes, it is refreshing to get a movie that strives to be something completely new, at least from a visual standpoint.  Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is just that, as director Luc Besson returns to the sci-fi fantasy genre he previously succeeded in with 1997’s The Fifth Element.  Unlike that movie, though, the ambitions of the story cannot quite match the ambitions of the visuals in Valerian, but the visuals alone are certainly worth checking out.

Valerian has a terrific opening.  Set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and beginning in 1975, we see the space station Alpha grow in Earth’s outer atmosphere as those operating the station welcome ambassadors first from different countries and races around the world, and then from different species from across the universe.  Throughout the years, the station continues to grow and grow in size and population until it becomes too large to exist safely in Earth’s atmosphere and is moved out into deep space.  It is unfortunate that the rest of the movie cannot match the exquisiteness of this opening, but instead turns into a rather conventional sci-fi action movie.

Laureline in Valerian and the City of a Thousand PlanetsWe are introduced to a race of beings that live peacefully on a planet made up of what appears to be an entirety of beachfront property, only to see them destroyed when an unknown menace crashes down from the skies, destroying their planet and most of their race.  The movie then introduces us to our two leads, Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline.  The pair are essentially galactic spies and have recently been tasked with recovering a mysterious stolen object.  This object turns out to be a creature from the doomed planet that is capable of replicating any item it can swallow.  Certainly, this could be of value to anybody, but for certain interested parties, this is more than just a get-rich-quick scheme, but it could very well save their species from extinction.

Writer/director Luc Besson has created a new fantasy world that feels fresh, even if the look of the director’s own The Fifth Element had previously been inspired by the comic books from which Valerian is based.  The movie is a lot of fun to look at, especially when we are outdoors or inside the cityscape.  When the movie moves into the smaller rooms, it becomes rather generic. One of the movies better action scenes takes place across two separate dimensions at the same time which makes for some interesting visual twists.  And the world is populated with many, many fascinating looking alien and robotic creatures.  It is unfortunate, then, that so much of the movie focuses solely on the human characters.

The human characters aren’t all that interesting and the adventure they are set on does not do much to showcase the visual world that has been created.  Dane DeHaan’s Major Valerian is a fairly bland hero and Clive Owen might as well be playing a character named “Abuse of Power Military Officer #1.”  Cara Delevingne, as Laureline, is the most likeable of the human characters, a big plus for an actress whose previous roles tended to lean towards the gloomy side.  Delevingne seems to be having fun with her role here, cracking jokes and even an occasional smile.

The main problem with Valerian is that the story does not come close to matching the movie’s visuals when it comes to inventiveness and creativity.  The movie also gets sidetracked about the midway point and loses track of its main storyline.  First Laureline has to go save Valerian and then Valerian has to turn around to go save Laureline.  It is understandable that the movie wants to emphasize that each of them will go to great lengths to save the other in order for the romantic subplot to work, but it is so far off course with the rest of the movie that the audience grows impatient for the movie to get back to the mystery of the disappeared civilization.  And the romantic subplot doesn’t work anyway.

I cheer Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets for setting out to create new worlds and the worlds the movie creates are fascinating from a visual standpoint, but the plot’s sluggish ambitions do not do the art direction justice and despite its breathtaking 3D visuals, the movie comes off feeling flat.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is rated PG-13 for “sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language.”  There are definitely some suggestive humor and a sort of alien striptease, but other than that this movie is fairly typical PG-13 fodder where lots of people might get killed, but there is no blood so it is okay.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.