“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is written and directed by Luc Besson and stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne. The film is based on the comic book “Valerian and Laurine,” and is about an unknown entity that threatens to destroy Alpha, a location home to every known species from across the universe, and it is up to Valerian and Laurine to help stop this from happening.
This is a movie that has been on my radar just because of how insane it looked. Luc Besson’s films may be polarizing, but at the least, he is certainly a visionary with his direction, as every movie he makes seems to be bigger and bolder. So, I came into “Valerian” hoping for a totally new and entertaining movie that also can hold a compelling story.
“Valerian” is one of the coolest visual experiences in a film this year, as Luc Besson is able to really push the boundaries of science fiction with an immense use of CGI, but with almost all of it working seamlessly into the story. The world of “Valerian” is definitely the best part of the movie, as it truly feels like an entire galaxy, and one with so many different types of organisms and species that I just continually wanted to learn more about, and the beautiful effects just help the vision come through even further.
The action sequences are very well handled overall, as even with all the insanity going on with the visuals and bizarre CGI characters, Besson and cinematographer Thierry Arbogast do a great job at showing all of the action in a very steady, engaging way. Arbogast is also able to show just how huge these locations are very well with the camera work, and it helps make the movie, as a whole, feel much more impactful with these deep shots of the universe.
“Valerian” comes out of the gates with one of the best first acts all year, as the opening 30 or 40 minutes really just gave me everything and anything that I could have hoped for from this movie. The opening moments of the film have some sensational effects and have quite honestly the most powerful emotional aspects of the entire runtime, and from there it leads into an incredibly entertaining action thrill ride that has creativity, intensity, and stakes while still keeping the lovely visuals. This opening act was definitely the highlight of the movie, and is still what I hold onto when thinking about what could have been with “Valerian.”
A major problem that “Valerian” has is with its runtime, as it is significantly too long. I get that Besson has a lot of source material that he is hoping to jam in, but at 137 minutes, this film just slams on the breaks hard in the middle, and it really takes all the wind out of its sails that it had gained from its magnificent opening third. There are surely moments or side plots that could have been removed in their entirety, and, sadly, the main one of those is Rihanna’s character.
Rihanna gives a semi-decent performance here, but her character is just totally unnecessary to the overall plot, and I wish that the plot never took the turns that lead to her because it added twenty or so minutes that really could have been taken out altogether.
Since we are talking about performances, I wouldn’t say anyone is particularly terrible, but there is also nobody who is good enough to elevate above the material in front of them. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are fine, and occasionally they have some standout moments, but for the most part, they are only passable and nothing exceptional. Where they do stand out is in a negative way, sadly, as their on and off romance dynamic is just awful, and consistently gets worse as the movie pushes forward.
Above all, it is the script by Besson that hurts the film the most, as it is truly horrendous. Nearly every joke comes off as incredibly wooden or poorly phrased, and the moments that are supposed to hit the emotional heights don’t get even close to doing so, and it is mostly due to the on the nose word choices and often cheesy attempts at dramatic tension.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a visual spectacle that is full of new, original ideas that, while very hit and miss, must be respected for being so bold and out there in a world that is mostly sequels and reboots. However, this is by no means a great movie, as even with a hot start, the movie really gets bogged down in its own universe and becomes overstuffed, overly long, and brutally underwritten. There is certainly loads of potential in this world for Besson to explore, but he does not hit all of the marks that he needed to in order to make “Valerian” the sci-fi epic he hoped it would be.
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