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

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Directed by: Luc Besson | 135 minutes | action, adventure, science fiction, fantasy | Actors: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Rutger Hauer, Peter Hudson, Xavier Giannoli, Louis Leterrier

Every phenomenon has a predecessor on which it is based. For example, the popular science fiction film ‘The Matrix’ is in some ways very similar to the Japanese animation film ‘Ghost in the Shell’. However, when a cult classic only arrives at the general public after so many years (as with the aforementioned animated film that received an American remake in 2017 and therefore managed to reach a larger audience) it seems a lot less original than it originally was. Despite the fact that ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was one of the first of its kind, it is now yet another sci-fi story with an overly intelligent computer. Unfortunately, this also happens in ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’, where the various spaceships, the ugly computer-generated aliens and the wooden love plot sometimes look very familiar to us.

The stories about the intergalactic secret agent Valerian have their origin in a series of French comics published in the mid-1960s. Quite a few concepts introduced in the comics made their way to the general public with the release of the first ‘Star Wars’ movie in 1977; who shamelessly copied all the original ideas of the comic series. Luc Besson must have been a big fan of the books, he’s the one who has to restore justice to the galaxy and give Valerian a similar cinematic adventure, hoping for a new science fiction phenomenon.

Why is all this important? The visual splendor of Besson coupled with vaguely familiar space vehicles and locations is one of the few things that really works in ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’. The locations that are visited are beautiful and even contain a few concepts that have not (yet) been adopted by better films or series. When Besson takes us on a kind of visual tour in the world of Valerian, the film is easy at its best. It’s just such a shame that it also has to be scripted, because almost everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.

To start at the beginning, the story is paper thin. An artifact of an (eventually not so) extinct civilization turns up and several parties want their share of it. The survivors of the extinct race want to rebuild their culture, one group of people wants to investigate it, and yet another group of people has nefarious plans for it. Main characters Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are of course the middle party who want to ensure that the best possible solution is chosen.
So simple, but that doesn’t matter if the background is a bit interesting and the characters are charismatic enough to follow. That background is good as described above, the fan of great science fiction adventures and locations will be richly rewarded.

But the film buff has to endure a difficult two hours. The two actors lack any spark of charisma. DeHaan therefore does not come across as the rugged space adventurer he has to introduce. Instead, he gives some sort of Keanu Reeves impersonation and completely misses the point. Delevingne isn’t much better. The love plot is of the level ‘Star Wars’ prequels and ‘Twilight’. We get to hear wooden dialogues. Many scenes are full of explanation rather than organically incorporated into the script.

The list of mistakes the film makes is endless. Because even though the visual splendor is there, the context is missing. For example, at one point in the film there is a gigantic space battle going on but the viewer only gets to see one side of it and we don’t even know who represents the other side. It creates a lack of connection with the public, which will not give a damn about who wins. It seems like the movie isn’t going for that either. And then it mainly remains a moving postcard of the various cool locations. Although the dialogues are bad enough to have a good laugh and turn ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ into a cult film someday.

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