Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review: Another Big-Budget Sci-Fi Film Bites the Dust

During the summer, there’s always that one movie that probably won’t make that much money because of how bad it looks or how much the budget is. With Luc Besson’s latest film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, it’s one of those times where it’s going to happen pretty soon.

In the 28th century, special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) work together to maintain order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the minister of defense, the duo embarks on a mission to Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture. When a dark force threatens the peaceful city, Valerian and Laureline must race against time to identify the menace that also jeopardizes the future of the universe.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Besson is a hit and miss writer-director sometimes because he can direct something cool like 1994’s The Professional and 1997’s The Fifth Element or pretty dumb like 2014’s Lucy. With Valerian, this was never a movie I was anticipating because even though the trailers looks beautiful, they never intrigued me. Even so, it still looked like an expensive space movie that probably won’t be good. And while I’m not huge on Besson, this might be one of those films where it’s going to be in the middle for me. By the time the third act started, I knew how I was going to feel about the movie in the end.

Starting off with a couple of things I really enjoyed about Valerian: It started out strong with its opening as it’s set to David Bowie’s Space Oddity and then it turned south after that. The visual effects work is absolutely stunning. Even from all the trailers, it really promised you for all these imaginative visuals, and it delivered from the atmosphere to the designs of the alien creatures. Where that showcased was the sequence when Valerian was running through a few different environments and that looked really cool. Everything else is a pile of garbage.

The biggest issue with Valerian is the script itself. Besson wrote this based on the French Sci-Fi comic series by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, and even though it’s clear that he wanted to envision it on screen, the dialogue that the characters are saying and a story that is told falls flat. There’s nothing in this two-hour space film that I could follow. We don’t know about the world and it throws all of this exposition like we’re going to remember this long introduction between Valerian and Laureline.

Everything else from the action sequences that really fell short in retrospect as they weren’t all that exciting to the attempts of humor were trying too hard. And this was boring also as the pace dragged. This is 137 minutes long and it felt longer.

One of the things that a movie needs to make it work is perfect, dynamic chemistry between its main characters. Was there anything between DeHaan and Delevigne? Nope, this tried so hard to make us believe they’re a couple but it doesn’t show. I feel bad for Dehaan because he’s a great actor as shown in Chronicle and The Place Beyond the Pines. His performance throughout this was very bland for our main protagonist because he wasn’t believable as this cocky special-ops and personally, he’s just miscast. Delevingne probably gives the better performance out of the two, but that’s not saying a lot. At least this wasn’t a sickening performance like her badly dancing character in Suicide Squad. There was nothing clicking for the both of them and couldn’t carry the movie.

Even when the story is trying to move along, the film takes a detour and screeches to a haul to have a three-minute scene of Rihanna, as a shape-shifting alien named Bubble, dancing. That scene served no purpose to the rest of the movie in any way. Rihanna is one of my favorite female artist of all-time and I love her very much, but she needs to stop acting because this is a more embarrassing performance than Battleship. If I wanted to see her dancing, just watch her music videos because that’s more entertaining and short. Also, what a shame to waste Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke.

Besson personally funded the film as the production budget comes to around $177-210 million, making it the most expensive European film ever made. That begs the question, “why?” Did this need to be on a huge epic scale? No. You just feel bad that a visionary director like this will likely lose a lot of money as this is I think this going to be a box office bomb overall. It is a well-directed movie in the end.

This isn’t anywhere near the level of becoming the next Fifth Element. To me, this is the love child of John Carter and Jupiter Ascending, which is what I feared this was going to be, and it came true. Both of those movies have the same pros and cons about them that’s can be said here.

There might be fans of the source material from the international audiences who will go out and see this, but hopefully, this won’t warrant a sequel.

In conclusion, Valerian will have its fun for other people who enjoy dazzling visual glory and design of it all of wanting a cool Sci-Fi adventure, but a messy narrative amongst other things isn’t worth the time. While it’s playing, it just makes you wonder what the rest of your day will be like because of how bored you’ll be.

Visually gorgeous as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is, it suffers from a terrible story and no chemistry between our leads.

Grade: D+

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