Review - 'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets'
Have you ever wondered what the love child of Star Wars, Avatar and The Fifth Element would look like? Well, whether you've wondered or not, the answer to that marriage is without question Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. This film is such a polarizing oddity that's as astoundingly wondrous as it is scattershot.
The film follows Valerian and Lorelai, two special operatives that are trying to uncover a dark mystery at the center of Alpha, a huge city in space that is occupied by thousands of various species from across the universe.
Valerien is a film that is so out-there that you almost have to see it to believe it. This is mostly due to the fact that it's pretty much a massively budgeted independent film in which visionary director Luc Besson was granted full creative control, an absolute rarity when so much money is on the line. While the film is definitely a unique experience worth witnessing in a theater, it's still not without its share of some crippling problems.
I wanted so badly for this film to be a total success. From the trailers, Valerian looked to be a jaw-dropping, gorgeous romp through space, and in many ways it does deliver on that promise. That said, the film has a strange tendency to go off on unnecessary tangents that take the focus away from the main plot. The first third of this film is filled to the brim with clever, and completely unique sequences that rival some of the best sci-fi films in recent memory, and early on it does have a pretty firm direction. Valerian begins to fumble in the second and third act, where we spend the majority of our time on the titular City of a Thousand Planets.
The plot also loses its hook when you figure out exactly where it's heading, which is pretty early on. The villain is so obvious, yet the movie keeps trying to throw curve-balls that are entirely ineffective. Thankfully, there's just enough fun and inventive moments sprinkled throughout to kept me from completely losing interest. Still, a good number of these moments seem detached from the main story and make the mission at hand seem less critical.
Valerian also struggles in the cast department. Dane DeHaan is an odd choice for the lead, Valerian. I didn't dislike him, but he's meant to be a riff on Han Solo and a lot of his attempts at humor land with an embarrassing splat on the floor. I still liked him to a certain degree and I even thought he had decent charisma with the other film's lead, Lorelai (Cara Delevigne). Speaking of Lorelai, I think this might be one of Cara Delevigne's better performances. She's snippy and full of quips that for the most part hit all of their targets, it also helps that she's totally in on how nerdy this film is and never seems like she's phoning it in. Clive Owen plays Commander Arun Filitt, and while he's fine here, his character is entirely generic and uninteresting, mainly because there's absolutely no mystery to him.
Despite my mixed feelings on the film thus far, the real reason to go out and see Valerian are its visuals. This movie is stunning. There is so much color and so many creative designs on display throughout the entirety of this film that I frequently forgot that I didn't really care about where the plot was going. There are many things to criticize Valerian for, but one cannot deny the sheer breadth of inventiveness on display. If there ever was a film to recommend on its creativity and visual style alone, it would be this one.
In addition to this, the movie is always trying to entertain, even when the story takes a plunge. While Valerian uses up its best moments in the first act of the film, there is still no shortage of fun to be had in the remaining acts. The only disappointing sequence is the finale, which isn't bad by any stretch, but it did feel like the film was finally beginning to sputter out of creative energy.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets may not have an entirely engaging plot or particularly great characters, but its abundant creativity and endless inventiveness are enough to justify a trip to the theater, provided you don't mind your sci-fi weird to the extreme.