Based on the original comics by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezeres, which launched in 1967, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was an adventure that I was looking forward to. Directed by the visionary Luc Besson, one of my all-time favourites is Leon, it felt like he could bring back pieces of The Fifth Element and take it a step forward with something equally action-packed and entertaining.
Now, I’ve given myself more time than usual to contemplate Besson’s vision of Valerian but it has been a difficult one because, quite disappointingly, it’s all over the place… and I don’t mean that in a cool, multiple, original Universe way. Although the opening sequences are visually astounding, with more than an unintentional echo of Avatar, the film often feels like they’ve tried to squeeze far too many ideas in at once, without full consideration for how they’d work together or if they’re even necessary.
Set in the year 2740, we follow Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), who are special operatives supposed to ‘keep the peace’ throughout the Universe, and this time they’re out to stop a secret evil from destroying everything, forever. Sure, it sounds a little clichéd but if it’s done well, these things can be successful. The problem though is that the tone shifts far too rapidly. Is this a tongue-in-cheek comedy adventure; is this serious drama, a comment on our modern world? While you can cover every eventuality, Valerian doesn’t know what it wants to be and we’re shown so many worlds, lives, and creatures you lose track over what’s going on, you to care for… if you care at all.
The other big problem here is DeHaan and, as a general rule, I liked him in Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and A Cure for Wellness, but he doesn’t remotely fit his character. He’s unapologetically dated, trying to be charming but ultimately feeling like a mid-90s teen film, high-school jock. He’s not likeable, weirdly seems to want to sound like Keanu Reeves and, more to the point, there’s little chemistry with Delevingne’s Laureline. You really do wonder what she sees in him at any given point, but Cara does the best she can with the heavy material she’s got to work with. There’s also an overly angry Clive Owen involved, and it’s really odd, not in a fun way.
So the positives: Visually, it’s an absolute stunner. It’s Star Wars on LSD and you can see the ideas Lucas ‘borrowed’ from the source material, his Millennium Falcon looking very familiar for one. Stand out moment include the wonderful cameos from Rihanna and Ethan Hawke and their exciting Cirque du Soleil-style scenes. Also, the second half of the film does start to focus but you can’t get away from feeling it’s all a beautiful mess.
Is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets one of those films we’ll come back to in the future and appreciate differently? Maybe. But right now, it’s a disappointing mishmash of stories that loses its audience. It feels like this would work as a Netflix series, so they’d have the chance to recast unknown leads and expand the huge Universe they have at their disposal.
Special Blu-ray features:
- Citizens of Imagination: Creating the Universe of Valerian (62 minutes)
- Enhancements Pods (40 minutes)
- The Art of Valerian Photo Gallery