Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review
You want to know why science fiction does well as a summer blockbuster not just to Americans, but to a worldwide audience? It’s the genre that is the most likely to transport even the most cynical of people to other worlds. Star Wars, Avatar, and Blade Runner show off an imagination of enchantment as each of these films directors reveal a full atmosphere that seems too much like the real thing. You know a films direction is successful when it calls for fans to recreate the little details from the lightsabers to posters that might have been somewhere in the background.
Another fan favorite happens to by The Fifth Element from 1997. While I can’t defend it as a great movie, it certainly had all the right pieces in place to create another world that looks great just to watch. What most people don’t know was that director Luc Besson was inspired by the French comic Valerian to make a lot of the art direction and design of The Fifth Element. I’ve never read any of the comics, but it seems to be similar in vein to Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers. With a larger budget and newer technology, Luc Besson now brings his version of the comic, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Set in the far future of 2717, Earth agents Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (played by Cara Delevingne) are assigned to retrieve a creature called “a converter” from a black market planet of sorts. Valerian uses some sort of VR technology to find the right salesperson to not just find “the converter”, but a pearl that looks different from the ones on Earth. Despite casualties of other agents, Valerian and Laureline are successful and return to the space station city known as “Alpha”.
Alpha is home to several representations of nations and alien species, but is still run by forces from Earth. Valerian and Laureline arrive to their commander Filitt who tells them that the core of Alpha seems to be facing radiation within its core and will likely spread if it’s not addressed. The two are sent to it as they make their way through the various areas that include primitive humanoids that fish for people and shapeshifter aliens like Bubble (played by Rihanna). When Valerian and Laureline meet a set of other humanoid creatures from a long gone planet, another story starts to open and just who might be the danger to Alpha.
I’ll say right on top that the best thing about Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the production design. It’s clear the Luc Besson has a large imagination if you can come up with all of these creatures and aliens (I know that there was a comic for basis, but I cannot imagine that many coming from it). It’s colorful and allows the audience, including myself to keep all eyes up front as we’ve become witnesses to some truly inspired imagery. That alone will make this a cult hit on video.
What prevents it from soaring into the cosmos? The lead characters. Dane DeHaan is largely miscasted as a character that supposed to be the greatest warrior from earth. Given the voice he was going for, I could see a Keanu Reeves or even a Harrison Ford having done this role in the past. DeHaan is simply too small for this. Cara Delevingne doesn’t do much better as the majority of her performance is more wooden then a carving. I get what they were trying to do with her (a tough, no nonsense type, think Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy), but Delevingne has a lot of work to do. To top it off, they have little to no chemistry, for a relationship that supposed to have a lot of sexual tension.
The story at first, while having a lot of pointless segways, did allow us to see a lot of Alpha. But then we got to the stories twist, which dwells into territory that resembles Avatar too much (which wasn’t even original to begin with). It the “Whose the savage” plot that can never find a new way to tell it. Why couldn’t the story have stuck to Alpha’s exploration?
I’ll give this three Valerian comics out of five. While I’m unlikely to return to this, I can imagine a lot of people finding the design and large scope enough to watch it multiple times. There’s inspiration all over the place and you can see a lot of the hard work that went into it, so I’m glad I still got something out of it. Perhaps other people got more then I did.