Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Movie Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets had my attention from the moment I saw the first trailer as it looked a sweeping, action packed, visually stunning sci-fi epic that’s my bread and butter when it comes to movies.  Add in the fact that it’s based on a French comic book that started in the late 1960s AND directed by Luc Besson who directed one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, The Fifth Element? Hell. Yes.  Give it to me now, now, NOW! Then when I went and saw Spider-Man: Homecoming, there was a clip from the first five minutes mixed in with the trailer and that got me even more excited.  Then tonight I got the chance to go see and I have to say that while I enjoyed the movie, it’s not quite as spectacular as I would have hoped.  Let’s dig into it.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follows Valerian and his partner Laureline as they are tasked with unraveling the mystery which lays at the heart of Alpha, an ever expanding space borne metropolis that traces it’s origins back to the International Space Station that orbits Earth in the 21st century.  Without spoiling anything, I thought that the plot reveal and resolution was a bit simple but still rather enjoyable.  I won’t go so far as to say that it was predictable but it’s nothing that will blow you out of the water. The plot also meanders a bit in the second act and feels like the writers wanted to add in some great things from the comics but weren’t quite sure how to effectively work it in to the plot so it ends up feeling tacked on. In the first act we see Valerian and Laureline pull off a mission together, then get separated in the second act, and reunited to finish out the movie. I’m fine with separating characters to cover more ground for the sake of the plot but the way that they are separated and what they do while apart doesn’t seem to add to the overall plot of the movie.  It felt like one of them gets sidelined and then the focus shifts to the other one and then the opposite happens, the first character gets the focus and the other is sidelined.  While I enjoyed watching what each character did, it came across as filler at times and bogs down the pacing of the overall film.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has to have one of the single most creative, imaginative, and immersive environments that I’ve seen in a movie.  The way that this world is built up and staged is just mind boggling.  It feels dirty and lived in and real but also so far fetched that it’s hard to wrap your mind around it.  I don’t know how much of what we see on screen was pulled directly from the original comics but all the awards should go to the production designers, the VFX crew, and everyone else that helped bring this movie to vivid life. There are plenty of movies out there that have inflated budgets and you just kind of sit back and wonder where those film spent their money but that is one thought you won’t have while watching Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, you can absolutely tell where the money went.

As for the cast, Dan Dehaan who plays Valerian and Cara Delevingne who plays Laureline both give solid performances even if their characters are a little underdeveloped.  When we meet them, it is very clear that they have been partners for a long while and already have a well established rapport, which is great that the movie doesn’t have to spend time establishing that rapport but at the same time it also feels like we, as the audience, have missed something, almost like we needed to watch a prequel clip or be familiar with the comics that this movie is based on to fully appreciated their interactions. There’s this playful love between them that is cute and endearing at times but it doesn’t really feel earned because we don’t know where it originated from or really get any kind of back story on our two main characters. For the supporting cast, Ethan Hawke and Rihanna’s roles are entertaining, her’s more than his, but their characters appear only in the meandering second act that I mentioned above, and I honestly feel like whole swaths of time could have been cut from that part of the movie.  I enjoyed what Hawke and Rihanna brought to the movie but ultimately I felt it was inconsequential to the film as a whole.

With Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Luc Besson built an beautifully realized world but unfortunately also had underdeveloped characters and a mediocre story to tell in that world. If I had to give this film a rating, which I usually don’t do, I would give it a 7.5/10.  Definitely above passing but with a lot of room for improvement. I do hope that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets does well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel because I would love to revisit this world.

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