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.

3 reviews

  • (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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