Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets Review

Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
On July 20, 2017
Last modified:July 20, 2017


Valerian focuses on a larger sci-fi spectacle populated with unfleshed characters and some of the worst dialogue Earth has to offer.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets Review

Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets opens, sans surprise, with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” launching our senses into orbit. A perfect musical selection, correct? Yes, until the song reveals a double meaning. As “Ground control to Major Tom” plays atop interstellar diplomacy, we realize that “perfect” can be swapped with “obvious.” James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy mixtapes display deep, connected curation, while Besson’s first track has been used and reused throughout sci-fi history. This sets a constant tone as motivations, dialogue, and casting all elicit audible sighs. Something so beautiful should never be this hollow, yet Besson’s shooting star burns premature and fizzles out with a put-put sputter.

Dane DeHaan stars as the titular Major Valerian, whose romantic interest in partner Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) remains his biggest challenge. Heists? Alien thugs? Snarling creatures? All a piece of mooncake for Valerian. But Laureline? He can’t seem to break her hardened exterior – and he’s going to have to wait until after their next mission to try again.

Disaster presents itself on Alpha, the “City Of A Thousand Planets,” as dictated by Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen). A radioactive tumor grows inside the megastation’s core, threatening the plethora of species who’ve taken residence on the floating metropolis. Laureline must also guard a priceless little beastie (the rainbow-skinned Melo), which Commander Filitt seems particularly cautious about. So begins Valerian’s quest to find out what’s really going on inside Alpha’s inner workings, because nothing is ever what it seems. And, of course, he’s right.

One of our first impressions of Valerian is the beachside landscape of Mül, were slender, almost translucent beings inhabit gigantic shells and harvest luminescent pearls. Colorful “Converters” who spit/expel/excrete copies of whatever they eat grunt and squeak like your new favorite alien pet (what Melo is). An awe-inspiring civilization is built from the ground-up, only to be destroyed by busted federation aircrafts that rocket downward like apocalyptic fireballs. Besson plays God, and with Avatar-esque visuals, orchestrates a Shakespearean tragedy that stokes a philosophical fire in one cataclysmic sequence.

You won’t hear me say a damned thing about Besson’s vivid sense of species, cosmos, and signatures. The slightest touch of glittery sparkles or splotchy strands of hair assert individuality. Pixels graft these living, breathing creatures from fishy forms in aquarium suits to gold-plated automatons. Every detail is so illustrative – even if humans apparently wear Tupperware hats in the future – to the point where you think Besson couldn’t possibly parade another new extraterrestrial look. Then three little elephant gremlin informants start their “Stooges” rambling, adding one more dash to a 1,000-ingredient melting pot.

That said, screenplay troubles erect a wall between audience and immersion. From square one – when Dane DeHaan starts flirtatiously berating his attractive companion – conversations are wooden. DeHaan himself doesn’t even appear to believe his own lines, as he smiles coyly while describing Valerian – his character – as a “badass” military cut of machismo. Entire scenes feel like “Human Interaction 101,” calling to mind an ACTUAL usage of “Time flies when you’re having fun!” Or “I’m a soldier! I play by the rules!” (something similar if not exact). Or my favorite, when Laureline is interrogating a certain high-ranking official. “Maybe you KNEW life was detected,” she accuses. Breakneck cut to a flashback, where said official is *immediately* told “Sir, life was detected. Intelligent life.” Again, these lines may not be exact, but you get the idea. It’s like a satirical spoof-comedy where corruption is heavy handed, almost as weighted as obvious immigration callouts. Less subtle than Laureline slapping Valerian’s face after yet another hint at romance.

Besson never allows his themes room to breathe. Before establishing Valerian and Laureline as singular characters, they’re already playing Cupid’s relentless cat-and-mouse game. Two people we know nothing about, talking about Valerian’s sexual playlist (this space cowboy f*cks) and a proposed marriage. Laureline repeatedly shrugs off the smooth-talking “hunk,” but smirks just long enough to suggest she’s interested. Why? We know nothing before the film’s singular mission, except that a decorated agent gets what he wants, and in this case, it’s his female accompaniment. Never an organic relationship, mind you. Besson says “THIS IS SO!” and that’s enough. Not like Laureline is given much of a chance or choice in the matter.

The most complete arc in Valerian belongs to a “Glamourpod” named Bubbles, aka Rihanna playing a gelatin sex worker for Ethan Hawke’s pimp Jolly. Granted, her far-too-slight appearance seems included only to help Laureline understand Valerian’s worth (this romantic arc, ugh). But still! For those brief five-or-so minutes, Rihanna does an era-and-fetish spanning striptease that cycles more costumes than Sharlto Copley in the entirety of Hardcore Henry. Besson’s creativity fries synapses like an overworked motherboard, challenging Rihanna with out-of-this-world choreography. She slays – of course – and then wraps herself like a coat of blubber around Valerian for a wacky bit of espionage. Then she’s gone, and so are our memories of the bizarre Valerian movie we so desperately yearn for.

I hate to say it, but maybe casting plays a part in the beautiful clumsiness of the film. DeHaan’s an actor with tremendous talent and underrated appeal – except here. His gun-toting warrior monologues sound like they’re coming from someone who’s never seen combat (a comment on screenplay, as well). Valerian’s wit may “bite,” but like a child playing backyard hero. And his chemistry with Delevingne? It’s like Valerian just watched an episode of The Pickup Artist and he’s stumbling over new lines, which Laureline apparently can’t get enough of. Pretty weak, especially when not a single other character is defined beyond “Clive Owen Commander,” “John Goodman’s Voice,” and “Random Officer Who Is Important For Some Reason.”

DeHaan is at his best when troubled, tormented or worse (Kill Your Darlings, Chronicle, etc). But as the strapping Harrison Ford type? It’s…well…let’s just say it’s a hard sell made worse by pound-my-face-with-a-hammer dialogue.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a fantasy adventure that’s nowhere near as adventurous or fantastical as it should be. For full enjoyment, you’ll need to find yourself lost in visuals (because nothing else will pull you in). One-dimensional characters, robotic interactions, a surprising lack of cinematic intrigue despite cosmic beauty – Luc Besson’s limp sci-fi sizzler is wasted potential on the largest scale. This is the epitome of a summer blockbuster. All dolled up with nowhere to go. Unless starbursts and Cara Delevingne sticking her head up a memory-reading jellyfish’s butt is enough to impress?

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets Review

Valerian focuses on a larger sci-fi spectacle populated with unfleshed characters and some of the worst dialogue Earth has to offer.