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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Movie Review

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Movie Review

Rating: C (Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

It’s always nice to see imaginative, high-concept science-fiction films, especially ones with a ton of world building and new planets to explore. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets does try to fill that niche with its wall-to-wall eye candy. Yet the characters and story fall so disappointingly short and thus, there is little to attach oneself to. Luc Besson has clearly worked hard to capture the aesthetic of the long-running French comic book, but the heroes don’t provide much engagement as they might have done on the page. Outside of an inspired detour featuring a famous singer, the movie presents a dull slog through pretty pictures.

Valerian is certainly destined to be screened on many display televisions at your local Best Buy. Every frame is popping with colour and scenery with Besson filling the screen with a wonderful assortment of aliens and buildings. The special effects wizards at WETA Digital follow suit, continuing to hone their motion-capture technology and it’s amazing what has progressed since their work on Avatar eight years ago. Besson succeeds at transporting the viewer to the various planets and their depictions are quite clever. A busy marketplace provides one of the many locales where a lot of thought and imagination was put into crafting the area. Yet the prettiness of Valerian still can’t hide the cardboard characters.

It’s possible Valerian and Laureline are meant as blank slates for the audience to project themselves into their adventures, but there’s little to endear oneself to them. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne lack charisma and their chemistry is almost non-existent. The other inhabitants aren’t any more interesting with Clive Owen playing a sneering commander and Sam Spruell’s general tasked with staring at screens for most of his appearance. There is one inspired sequence where it picks up, when Rihanna appears to help Valerian on his journey. This detour doesn’t have much to do with the plot at large, but is far more entertaining, funny and whimsical than the story as a whole. It’s a nice short film in an otherwise dull movie.

The plot, centered on an alien species trying to attain an important McGuffin, consists of a bunch of running and technobabble and diplomacy. The most apt comparison viewers will make will be to the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending. However, there was still something intriguing about the interplanetary family conflict being presented in that sprawling sci-fi adventure. Valerian is nowhere near as engaging as the story sputters along with little personal or emotional attachment in the proceedings. Even the humour falls flat a lot of the time, though this can be primarily blamed on the performances of our two leads. The serious stakes and goofy nature of Valerian just don’t mesh well together.

The imagination and creativity is definitely on the screen, but in the end, films still need a fun set of characters and an engaging, well-paced story. The budget and effects overwhelm everything else and whatever fun might have been in the comic book is largely absent here. One almost wishes they had dispensed with the main plot entirely and just showed Valerian and Laureline going on goofy adventures on far-off and crazy planets. The audience is treated to that sort of inspiration in Rihanna’s section of the film. Yet we have to sit through dull stretches of pew-pews and whiz-bangs to get to that twenty minute segment. Watching Valerian, one starts to wish for the freewheeling wackiness of another French sci-fi comic book adaptation, Barbarella. Valerian lacks the charm of that late ‘60s psychedelic romp.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison