After many apparent hesitations, director Luc Besson and his wife decided to write an English-language French science fiction action-adventure film titled Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It is based on the French comic series Valérian and Laureline. I am not familiar with the comics but in the past couple of months, I have admired the trailers from a visual standpoint. Then again, the movie did have a budget of 197 million Euros, so it should look mightily impressive. The movie has nowhere near matched the budget in the box office, and it is the most expensive European and independent film ever made. Ouch. I would hate to deliver that news to the board.
What’s it about?
Close your eyes for a minute and imagine a space station. Wait, this will not work. Instead, clear your mind for a minute and imagine a space station in 2020. Then years later, leading countries of the world attach their station to this one. Then many years later, other species from different planets send their station to join in on the action. This continues to happen until the 28th century. We now have one large planet made of cities (named Alpha) with a multitude of peace agreements. Still with me? Good. Now, imagine a planet far away with pale looking, peace loving Avatars, who are living in harmony amongst powerful energy-containing pearls, in a tropical paradise. All of a sudden, huge ships crash into their planet and they are wiped out. Lead male character Valerian wakes up. He just had a dream about this decimated planet and he is about to embark on a mission with Laureline ordered by his commander to retrieve a converter. They are later told that Alpha is infected by an unknown force and they must investigate and protect the Commander, suspiciously performed by Clive Owen.
Can you see why I told you to close your eyes? This narrative has so many obstacles to jump around that, at times, it felt mentally challenging.
What’s it like?
Visually? It is magnificent, but like I discussed in The Mummy (2017) review I would expect nothing less. The introduction to the unknown avatar-looking species is breathtaking. The scenes are extremely bright and colourful, coupled with a desirable looking beach and translucent sea water. The type of imagery you sometimes see in those travel agent brochures, and you wonder why your life does not involve that reality. The entire movie throws a whole draft of different species and environments of station cities such that you lose count. It is called Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets so undoubtedly the expectation is that every little crumb of this film needs to look grand and visually epic.
If you allow yourself to be distracted by the CGI then it is okay. You can relax.
So did you like it?
Some movies are average and convoluted but still surprisingly enjoyable. Valerian is one of those movies because the flaws are obvious. After thirty minutes of the film trying to ram everything down your throat, you have to concede and partake in the rocky ride. Somewhere in this movie, there is a good idea. The only problem is that it does not know what that idea is. You have several elements to choose from, some you hate, some you like. The entire movie is constructed around Valerian and Laureline, which confuses me slightly.
Well, maybe it is because it is called Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Okay, so the entire narrative is woven around this strategically built station that gathers thousands of different species, but the movie wants you to enjoy the characters Valerian and Laureline. Why did they not call it Valérian and Laureline, the same title of the comics? You are introduced to both of these characters on a virtual beach. It is obvious that hormones are thriving, as Valerian is making very strong, awkward moves on Laureline. He’s also slept around apparently, so that’s an issue for her. It is no secret that most of the film is going to involve a love interest plot. Unfortunately, it felt like a comedy teen-flick at times, that distances you from all the craziness going on. That was a bit snarky. There is nothing wrong with a teen-flick, but they do not transcend well with me. It gives movies a generic feeling that always makes me feel quite bored. As for the performances? They are okay. Cara Delevingne is much better suited in roles like this where she can showcase her character’s personality than that mess of a villain in Suicide Squad. The most abstract performance in this movie is from Rihanna.
Yes, Rihanna is in this. She is some kind of shapeshifter that has a dream to be a performer. I always wonder who gives her these ideas to do cameos like this. Not to say she is bad. It is just extravagantly random. I was thoroughly entertained by her morphing act, although it did strike me that it was obvious titillation for the audience.
So is it good?
It is average. It is a great shame because it is fun and as already stated there is a good idea in this story somewhere. The movie is in need of direction by someone who can manufacture a simple straightforward storyline rather than trying to sell you everything in one feature. Valerian is an expensive project that could have had more thought behind it and been marketed stronger. Despite its average nature, I enjoyed its rather predictable conclusion that wraps everything up in a small third act and, despite my hesitation with the two leading characters at the start, I was enjoying their company by the end of the movie.
Wait for it to come out on DVD, because I am convinced there will be no sequel.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.