Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

  • Time: 129 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Luc Besson
  • Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen


In the 28th century, Valerian and Laureline are a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense, the two embark on a mission to the city of Alpha-an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with each other. There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, a dark force which threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.


  • (RATING: ☆☆ out of 5)

    GRADE: C-


    IN BRIEF: A sci-fi fantasy that is all impressive surreal images that make little sense.

    SYNOPSIS: Two space soldiers fight intergalactic battles to protect the universe.

    JIM’S REVIEW: During my college years, one of my professor’s sage advice for creating art was the following: “ If you have nothing to say, make it big. If you still have nothing to say, make it colorful.” That philosophy sums up Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

    Red…I see cadmium red. Yellow…a bright glossy shade of amber. Blue…a rich cobalt hue. The primary colors are all there in this eye-popping space epic, but the basic story is a blur. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a visual treat is a visual treat, an awe-dropping spectacle with no real sense of logic, menace, or suspense.

    The dim-witted plot involved the title character (Dane DeHaan, an actor who is yet to find a good script and a good agent) and Cara Delevingne (a lovely actress who need a good script too and, more importantly, some acting lessons) as Laureline. Both are space troopers sent on various inane missions and in charge of protecting a miniature dinosaur that poops magical pearl-producing skills. (Hmm! Yes, you heard correctly. Right there should have signaled a cadmium red flag to all those involved with this project.)

    Based on the popular graphic novel series, this adaptation was written and directed by Mr. Besson, a solid filmmaker whose words never reach the level of his actions. Always emphasizing visual over substance, the director once again creates his razzle-dazzle worlds unseen with his vivid imagination but strands his actors with an incoherent plot.

    Also lost in space are Clive Owen (dressed in bright green Sgt. Pepper attire), Ethan Hawke (as a 70’s pimp night club owner), Rihanna (as Bubbles, caught in Liza Minnelli Cabaret mode), and a cast of thousands of CGI inhabitants. Kudos to the actors who were immersed and had to react in this imaginary world, but our sympathies go out to them as well for the total waste of their talents. As for the leads, they are attractive and likable enough, but have zero chemistry between them. He makes snarky comments; she continually carps and pouts. Such is their whole relationship. Their so-called banter is lackluster and their line readings are as flat as the horizon on the planet Mui.

    Mr. Besson’s universe is bizarre as it should be, a surreal astounding realm of duck-billed platypuses, ethereal waifs, morphing performers, and the aforementioned defecating reptile (well, not so much the latter). The visuals effects are state-of-the-art marvels, especially Rihanna quick change segment which is the most effective part of the film, although it does nothing to advance the plot. (Special mention to Julien Rey’s flashy editing.)

    As the director, Mr. Besson never succeeds at finding the right tone for his film. He seems more interested in the physical look of his movie. As the screenwriter, he does a terrible job with trying to establish his characters and their misadventures. The film’s over-convoluted story and its abrupt tone travels from arch seriousness, campy parody, and absurd silliness for no apparent reason. There is much spectacle on the screen that impresses with its visual panache while averting us from the real fact that the plot is in shambles. Even in a unusual world, logical sense must prevail to satisfy the onlooker and delve deeper into its message. With little substance from the screenplay, style and strangeness is all that is left on view.

    It’s big…it’s color…it says nothing! It’s art, without the capital A.

    I’m sure there must be an audience somewhere for this type of gonzo sci-fi fantasy, but I am not definitely not one of the film’s target audience members. While it’s true that the colorful visual palate of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets may not be like any other movie you have ever seen…it is also a fact that this may be one movie that you should never have seen. Skip it…there are better planets to visit in your moviegoing universe.

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  • There are worse movies out there. Valerian is not horrible. It’s not very good but it’s not horrible. The whole thing, now that I have given it some thought, seems to be a set up for sequels. We have a couple of great locations, several interesting alien races, humans for the leads, a male and a female, so there always the chance of sex, and a lot of money to throw at it. The problem is that doesn’t make a good movie.
    Luc Besson, is the writer and director of this movie. There are two other names listed for writing but they’re the comic book writers. So it falls on Luc’s shoulders and it’s not sliding off like water off a duck’s back. To start with, the movie is too long. When are movie-makers going to realize that 3D doesn’t advance the plot or characters. I don’t see the 3D versions of movies anymore because I got so tired of having to sit through all the special effects that add up to nothing and pay more to do it. The equation is the same here. The dialog is functional but not anything to write home about and the acting doesn’t leave you on the edge of your seat at all. As the director, Besson follows his script. This is a case of the need for another person to write or direct so everything isn’t caught up in one creator’s mind and no one questions the reason for things happening.
    The best I can say about this movie is it’s pretty. Technically it has a lot going for it but again that’s not the plot or characters.
    Dane DeHaan plays Valerian and I didn’t believe he was a major in a military force. He did not have the gravitas to be convincing for me. I would have accepted a lower ranking but the character has been established in the comic books. Cara Delevingne plays Laureline and does not have this problem as her character is a sergeant and it fits better. It’s nice to see a strong woman’s role but most of the strength came from her mouth and not her actions. Clive Owen is the bad guy, Commander Arun Filitt and he looked and acted the part well. His character wasn’t going to take any crap from anyone.
    Rihanna plays a character whose name gives away too much but most of the time it’s voice over since her character is a creature who looks like blue gelatin. Her opening sequence was one of the times the film could have been cut. It just went on forever. Ethan Hawk’s Jolly the Pimp is only in one sequence but he does a great job with it.
    There is also a group of performers who would seem to be characters for future sequels. Rutger Hauer play the President of the World State Federation. John Goodman is also only around for a very short time. Herbie Hancock is only seen as a projection on the screens in the various sets.
    I give Valerian 3 pearls out of 5. For all the good tech stuff the truth of the matter is tech stuff doesn’t tell a story. It looks good. It can add to the whole but it isn’t what makes the plot move. There’s going to be another one of these movies. Let’s hope they’ve got the exposition out of the way and the plots can take over.

  • The plot of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets goes something like this: an unnamed paradise planet populated by the iridescent, sylph-like Pearl species is annihilated at the film’s outset. Cut to about 30 years later as Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), special agents of the human police forces, are tasked with retrieving a “converter” from a black market dealer on the enormous space station named Alpha, which houses millions of creatures from different planets.

    The converter turns out to be a colourful, armadillo-like creature that has the ability to reproduce anything it ingests, including the energy-containing pearls that the Pearl species used to sustain their planet. As it’s the last of its kind, it makes it very valuable indeed and Valerian and Laureline discover, in between neutered romantic exchanges, that there’s more to their mission than meets the eye and that perhaps the Defence Minister (Herbie Hancock), General Okto Bar (Sam Spruell), or Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) may have their own dastardly agendas for wanting the converter.

    In truth, the plot is wholly beside the point. The raison d’être of the film, which is based on the popular French comic book series Valerian et Laureline created by Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Mézières, is to allow writer-director Luc Besson to let his imagination run wild. The series, which ran from 1967 through 2010, influenced the likes of Star Wars and Besson’s own The Fifth Element; it’s particularly difficult not to compare Valerian to The Fifth Element not only because they are near carbon copies of one another, but especially because, for all the technological advances that have occurred in the 20 years between the two films, Valerian is vastly inferior to The Fifth Element as far as Besson’s inventiveness is concerned. Both films possess worlds, figures and creatures that are stuffed to the brim with details but, where The Fifth Element had more of a narrative engine that disguised its digressions, Valerian is a series of diversionary interludes that wouldn’t feel like such glorified filler if the film’s leads and all the goings-on weren’t so dull.

    To be fair, Delevingne makes a far better impression here than in her previous film appearances, but it’s difficult to assess if her performance is actually as spirited and sassy as it seems or if it simply appears that way because DeHaan is so flat and obviously miscast. It doesn’t help matters that their chemistry is akin to bickering siblings than romantic partners; most of the time, they come off as kids putting on costumes and playing at being intergalactic agents. More interesting is Rihanna, who plays the shape-shifting performer Bubble in the film’s best interlude, which successfully combines kitsch, spectacle, comedy, pathos, and action and which unfortunately lasts for all of 15 minutes.

    It’s no doubt that Besson puts on quite a visual extravaganza – Valerian is definitely best seen on the big screen – but it’s one that bores rather than enraptures.

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  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is overstuffed, overlong, and overblown. It readily checks in as my latest review. Basically “Valerian” has enough vivid hues and elements of sci-fi gimmickry to fill a “thousand” movies. Sadly, it is also the most misguided and pretentious science fiction endeavor since 2015’s Tomorrowland.

    Listen, the two flicks aren’t identical but they share the same aura of being clunky. In my review of Tomorrowland, I referred to George Clooney’s latest as “the Tinkertoy” movie. With Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, I’m gonna go ahead and call it the cinematic equivalent of a Candy Land board game. Just imagine an alternate version of Avatar combined with a bad Star Wars prequel. Then have it take place hundreds of years in the future with a severe weirdness factor attached. That’s what you get with “Valerian”.

    The director of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is Frenchman Luc Besson. Luc is no doubt a visionary filmmaker. With “Valerian” however, he tries too hard to secure his vision. He forgets that story-line, proper casting, and continuity matter just as much. Besson’s visual style is apparently everything or I guess, the only thing. It’s sumptuous yet purposeless. The effects just sit there, lying on a shelf. They are made to be seen but have no baring on “Valerian’s” actual spiel.

    Out of “Valerian’s” unnecessary 137-minute running time, there’s about an hour where you don’t know what the heck is going on. It’s pretty much plot-free material. And in between the splashy cinematography by Thierry Arbogast, you the viewer have to listen to truly painful dialogue exchanges between the actors.

    In addition to trivial cameos by Ethan Hawke and Rutger Hauer, you get to hear co-star Cara Delevingne constantly growl and pout. Then in “Valerian”, you get a dose of pop star Rihanna playing an exotic dancer who sounds like she’s literally reading from cue cards. Finally, you’re saddled with lead Dane DeHaan. He may have been solid in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but here he comes off like the poor man’s Leonardo DiCaprio. Let’s face it, Dane is a little too scrawny and dry to be a credible action hero.

    In conclusion, “Valerian” at a budget of $180 million, might be the most futuristic vehicle ever made. And at the same time, it is virtually non-core (that’s not a good thing). The best way to enjoy “Valerian” is to see it on the biggest screen possible or in 3D. Stay for gnarly images and try to ignore everything else. Bottom line: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is 45% soulless and 45% cheesy. The other 10% is when the film has its moments which are few and far between. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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  • “It’s our mission that doesn’t make sense, sir.”

    After watching “Valerian and the City of a thousand planets” I can imagine how someone sees his surroundings while being under the influence of psychedelics. This SF-opera based on a comic is a cacophony of surrealistic and grotesque images from an immeasurable universe where all sorts of extraterrestrials make their appearance. Believe me, it really didn’t take long before I realized I no longer knew what it was about. The only thing left for me was to lay down in my cozy couch and marvel at the spectacle Luc Besson fabricated.

    Visually, this SF is really overwhelming. Color tones splashing off the screen. And an infinite collection of aliens. Already during the opening scene you get a concatenation of delegations arriving at the space station Alpha. Then the spectacle moves to the planet Mül inhabited by a peaceful civilization whose daily life consists of strolling over idyllic-looking beaches with a deep blue ocean and producing magical spheres which have an unseen power. The image of a sensual extraterrestrial beauty (who wouldn’t look bad on the centerfold of an alien nude magazine) is in stark contrast with the images of destruction of this planet afterwards. And so it goes from a virtual market in a cork-dry desert, with a trillion bazaars and shops you can only see and touch with the help of a special helmet and gloves, to the bizarre space station Alpha. A place with more than 3000 life forms living in different territories, each with their own specific characteristics and expertise.

    I don’t know how many parts there are from the French comic book Valerian, but it seems as if Besson attempted to put the entire series in one film. The different characters and side-plots follow each other with a breathtaking speed. In such a way that you go from one surprise to the next. Perhaps the aim is to use this oversupply together with the sensational visual material, to divert our attention from the simple storyline. The story itself is far from impressive. I’m not a connoisseur when it comes to the stories about Valerian. That’s why I thought it was rather confusing after a while. The storyline remained disappointingly minimalistic, despite the huge budget.

    The biggest mistake Besson surely made, was the choice of actors responsible for the roles of Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline. Was it the intention to create cartoonish characters? Well, he succeeded in that. For the rest, I thought they were annoying and childish and they didn’t have the looks of real heroes. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne look like two minors who ended up in a loaded, mature story. A sort of Willy and Wanda saving the universe. That’s why the so-called romantic part, full of flirtation and nonsense about commitments and being faithful, doesn’t come across as credible. I’m not claiming that they are bad actors because DeHaan was formidable in “A cure for Welness“. And Delevingne’s interpretation in “Paper Towns” was of a different caliber.

    “Valerian” looks like a mishmash of fragments taken from other large-scale SF epics. Everyone will notice something that looks familiar to him. It sometimes looks like a futuristic painting full of bombastic elements. The images vary from “Star Wars“-like to that of a PC game. The view of the planet Mül, for example, resembled that of what I saw in “Myst”. An old PC adventure game I used to play ages ago. But titillating images aren’t good enough to call a film successful. You can compare “Valerian and the city of a Thousand Planets” with an amusement park with an abundance of attractions. It’s fun to be there and you’re trying to do as much as possible, but afterwards you’re stuck with a feeling of disappointment because you haven’t been able to fully experience it all. And this thanks to the overwhelming (and exagerated) number of activities.

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