Review: After nearly two decades, Luc Besson finally materializes Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a space adventure adapted from his childhood favorite comic ‘Valérian and Laureline’—which he’s been craving to make ever since The Fifth Element (1997).
With visual endeavors the size of Cameron’s Avatar and vibrant universe to rival Star Wars (if not Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending) also with largest budget in French cinema history, it is exactly the size of Besson’s ambition on full creative control mode. The result is an elegant (borderline to over-the-top) space odyssey if not a style-over-substance one by any measure. What Valerian doesn’t have is a compelling script to cover the whole duration.
When those idylls finally comes to end, the titular character, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) with his partner—on duty and in flirting—Laureline (Cara Delevingne) plug in. The couple is in the middle of a secret mission to acquire an exotic space being and bring it to Alpha, which has grown from a single space station into the titular city of a thousand planets with thousands of dwellers from different intergalactic species.
During the capture-and-contain mission, Valerian exhibits possibly one of the most inventive set-pieces in recent history, The Big Market, which possibly makes Jakku in The Force Awakens or even Mos Eisley look like a thrift store. Yet, the further the mission goes, the more Valerian stumble into familiarity and, more, over-conventionality. More to it, Besson stretches that conventional narrative an hour too long, overshadowing the spectacular, effective first 30 minutes.
The script isn’t neat and, apparently, cramped with fillers every 10 minutes or less. It seems like the French filmmaker is obliged to make every dollar he spent in production matter… visually. Unfortunately, that costs Besson major things essential in storytelling. First and the most important thing is character development, which is somehow absent. And then, it also costs pace, conjunction, smart dialogues, and… villain.
In a story titled after the character’s name, Valerian doesn’t seem to care ‘enough’ to DeHaan’s Valerian, in comparison to its attention to the background details. Valerian is a tad too shallow and clumsy to be considered as the film’s main protagonist, especially when DeHaan fails to bring the persona in. Delevingne brings a little thrust the balance (although not in Besson’s typical femme fatale’s standard) but her character will finally get overlapped in popularity by Rihanna’s surprisingly fun (although a bit over-placed) shape-shifting Bubble or Ethan Hawke’s sassy character.
In the end, Valerian might echo The Fifth Element‘s vibrant intergalactic vistas but is unable to recapture Besson’s gritty actioner formula. It might be Besson’s dream project to quench his visual ambition, but not his penchant of destruction.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)