The world of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is never less than spectacular to behold. Almost every frame is composed like a painting or the cover of a pulp sci-fi novel, bursting with colour and creativity. Alpha, the city of the title, feels like a living, breathing world, filled with hundreds of diverse species and the potential for thousands of different stories.
It’s just a shame that director Luc Besson has chosen to tell this particular story.
After a glorious opening showing humanity’s ascension to the stars (set to a song too perfect to spoil) and an impressive series of chase sequences through an inter-dimensional marketplace, the plot eventually devolves into a mystery so blindingly obvious most will have it figured out before it even starts.
Having a simplistic plot is not necessarily a bad thing: The Fifth Element, Besson’s other sci-fi epic, had a villain that was essentially a giant ball of pure evil. The difference is that The Fifth Element also had interesting characters and a decent screenplay. Valerian has neither.
Almost every line of dialogue is cringeworthy, and when Besson isn’t dumping piles of exposition into our laps he’s taking huge logical leaps and making up rules seemingly as he goes along. But the biggest problem is our protagonists, whose utter lack of chemistry condenses into a singularity that threatens to crush the entire film. Delevigne is underwritten as Laureline, while Dane DeHaan’s attempts at making Valerian a loveable rogue come off as alternately annoying and downright creepy.
Despite its myriad flaws, it’s hard to stay mad at a movie like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It’s clear that Luc Besson has poured blood, sweat and tears into every frame, and an ambitious failure will always be more interesting than a bland success.
CAST: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevigne, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Rihanna
DIRECTOR: Luc Besson
WRITER: Luc Besson
SYNOPSIS: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.