Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has been a lifelong passion project for filmmaker Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element, Lucy). Based on a French comic book series entitled Valerian and Laureline, Besson has been trying to get a film version off the ground during his entire filmmaking career. After scoring his biggest hit yet in 2014 with Lucy, Besson finally decided to pull the trigger and make the film. While there were parts of the film that I enjoyed, there were other parts that stopped the film dead in its tracks.
During the opening credits of Valerian, we are treated to a montage about how the space station Alpha became the city of a thousand planets. Hundreds of years later, special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are assigned by the government to investigate a dark force that’s taking place within the center of Alpha. Not only could it affect Alpha, but it could have ramifications across the entire universe.
One of the things that I liked about Valerian is the visual look that Besson and his longtime DP, Thierry Arbogast, gave the film. At times, the film looked like it was leaping off the pages of the comic book. It’s probably one of the most colorful films you will come across this summer. Both the production and creature designs in this were great as well. They did a really good job in making sure one stood out from the other. The production design, especially with Alpha, was astounding. I will say that for both DeHaan and Delevingne, this was better then their last films they were both in (A Cure for Wellness (the 2nd worst film I’ve seen this year) and Suicide Squad). The action scenes were cool, well designed, and imaginative, especially during a sequence at the Big Market that takes place on different dimensions. Including the mostly single take shot from the trailers of Valerian running through different sections of Alpha. When the film was good, it was fun.
One of the biggest problems that I had with this film is the runtime. The story that Besson presented to us in no way warranted the 137-minute runtime that this had. Even though this was his passion project, Besson needed to trim the fat. There are characters and scenes in this film that could be easily eliminated and the film still would have played the same way. With this runtime, the film takes awhile for the plot to kick in (the same issue Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 had earlier this summer). As soon as the film started to get good, it would stop dead in its tracks and nothing would happen. So it keeps you waiting and waiting for developments.
The plot itself was a little confusing to follow, and it’s not particularly exciting. Also, while I said that this was better then their last films respectively, DeHaan and Delevingne had zero chemistry with one another. Maybe there were better actors for these roles. The music from Alexander Desplat was a little disappointing as well in that it’s not particularly memorable. When I first saw the ads, I thought it would be a great film to see in 3D. Sadly, the 3D doesn’t add much to the film, and only a couple of spots here and there. Lastly, the subtitles for a film like this weren’t particularly imaginative, and oddly, they were framed on the extreme edges of the screen.
Overall, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets wasn’t a bad film per say, but it wasn’t a great film. I wished it fully embraced the weirdness that the ads were showing us. For some of the runtime, it delivered what I was hoping for. If they would have cut down the runtime, I think I would have a much more positive outlook on the film. It’s a film that sometimes goes around in circles not knowing what it wants to be. I don’t see this doing well here in the United States, but it’ll be interesting to see how it does overseas. If you want a great sci-fi film from Besson, stick with The Fifth Element. You don’t need to pay the price for a 3D ticket. If you must, go see this during a matinee screening. If not, catch it on TV sometime.