‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ is the latest film from visionary Director Luc Besson. Based on a french comic book the film stars Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne and Clive Owen with smaller appearances by Ethan Hawke and Rihanna. Taking place in the distant future we follow special agents Valerian (DeHaan) and Laureline (Delevingne) on a mission to uncover a conspiracy which threatens to destroy the floating space station Alpha, the titular ‘City of a Thousand Planets’.
The plot summary suggests a straight forward space adventure, where our heroes travel to exciting places in a race against time…what we get is the most tumbled version of that story, a bizarrely structured and unevenly paced collection of scenes rather than a coherent and thrilling space romp.
That is not to say the film is without merit, far from it in fact. The visuals in this are absolutely stunning, a beautiful collection of landscapes and places, each featuring such a diverse selection of species that it is impossible not to be impressed by the world building on offer here. Some of the best constructed universes in film, like the original Star Wars trilogy and Avatar, there is a rich mythology and history, aw well as detail, to each of the worlds we encounter. However comparisons with the likes of Jupiter Ascending and the Star Wars Prequels are also applicable, and therein lies the biggest flaw in the film.
The script, plot and characters are paper-thin. Sub plots, of which there are many, are thrown in but rarely pay off, there is a jarring amount of contradictory character decisions that make our heroes seem either stupid or just badly written, at one point Laureline shows that she is the no-nonsense, strong female lead only to then make shopping jokes and become a damsel in distress while later Valerian punches a superior officer and in the same scene lectures Laureline on protocol. One of the worst examples of the poorly written script is the dialogue between the leads, which is bland and suffers from having the character explaining how they feel instead of letting us see it for ourselves.
While the script and story are weak it has to be said the leads do not help matters, DeHaan seems wildly miscast, almost like a teen trying to do a ‘Keanu Reeves in Speed’ impression, the characters quips very seldom land and the chemistry between him and Delevingne is non-existent. Delevingne also seems to be unsure if her character is a hyper serious agent, a pouty teenager or a love struck valley girl.
It is a shame that so much doesn’t work in the film as its two great elements, visuals and world building, really are excellent. There are more original ideas in here than in most blockbusters you will ever see and taken as scenes on their own there are a few stand outs, the opening few minutes showing the coming together of different species and cultures is with beautiful and poignant, a market chase shortly after is unusual and fun and a brief scene featuring great appearances by Ethan Hawke and (surprisingly) Rihanna are excellent in their own right, but sadly a few great moments do not make a great film and a lack of plot, chemistry and pacing mean that for all it’s great ideas and visual glory, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a disappointment.
2 out of 5