There are a lot of mixed reviews for Luc Besson’s latest film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and it is warranted. The movie does a good job at setting up a visual of a bright world with complex creatures and concepts. Alpha, the city of a thousand planets (as the movie itself is titled), shows this city-like world filled with all kinds of aliens and humans alike. The film explains how this city works and what keeps it functioning. The way the imagery of this place sets things up, the audience is given a unique take on a futuristic world in space. It also details the way that humans and aliens together form an alliance for trade and militaristic purposes.
These concepts all seem to work during the first thirty minutes of the film. However, after the opening sequence, the film starts to get muddled with subplots and distractions from the main story. Luc Besson’s goal is clearly to share a world that he loves (which is based on the graphic novel, Valerian and Laureline). The problem is he includes all these little moments that distract from the overall story and it makes the plot confusing as well as contradictory. An example of this is seen around the moment where Bubble (played by Rihanna) appears. The purpose of this scene was to get Valerian to be disguised so he can infiltrate an alien fortress that was holding Laureline. In the scene prior to this one, Valerian makes it clear he does not want to create a diplomatic incident for The Human Federation on Alpha and the rest of the vaguely described inner space goverment. However, while he goes into the fortress under disguise (thanks to Bubble’s ability to make him look like one of the big aliens), Laureline and him both create an incident anyway that gets several aliens killed. But, nevermind about this because Valerian saves Laureline and they narrowly escape.
Then, the film goes on to show us Valerian and Laureline saving another species of alien, who became refugees when Clive Owen’s character blew up their planet. Is that a spoiler? Yes, but the movie tells the audience in the first act, then has the characters be surprised at the end anyway. By the way, the aliens that Valerian and Laureline killed early in the film were way uglier than the pretty ones they decide to save later on. Does that mean it is okay to pick and choose which aliens to save? Just as long as they are not ugly aliens, I guess? It is confusing what the movie is trying to say between those two sequences.
Aside from the contradictions in the story, there was another aspect of the movie that is bothersome. It was the fact that so many parts of the film seemed like a repeat of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (which came out in 1997). There is nothing wrong with filmmakers rehashing ideas that they themselves have created. However, there were moments in Valerian that became predictable simply because it was already done in The Fifth Element. One of those sequences being Bubble’s death. This scene echoed the one in The Fifth Element, where a blue diva alien dies tragically for the greater good. The blue alien death in the 1997 film pays off though because it gives the heroes the thing they needed most in order to save the day. However, this did not pay off nearly as well for Valerian, and it just creates a noisy, fast paced conclusion to the story.
My last point about this movie’s substandard performance goes to the casting choices. The casting of Dane Dahaan and Cara Delevingne as the two leading roles was okay. Their performances were decent, however, they lacked the chemistry that would have been needed in order to pull off a successful romance that the film was clearly trying to force. Not only that, Laureline’s character (portrayed by Delevingne) seemed a bit robotic and I do not blame the actor for this at all. The writing for Laureline was ridged and the movie did not give her much of a role as a female. Yes, she had her action bits, but the character did not seem interested in Valerian at all. Though, at the end she suddenly is okay with marrying him. It seemed like Valerian kept forcing her to answer his proposal for marriage and it was rather uncomfortable. In addition, there were several moments where Valerian would explain things to her, despite her clear knowledge. Those moments made it hard to like Valerian, but it also made me wish the film could just focus on Laureline. I liked her far more and would have preferred to see her be a bit more independent, or at least resemble how a woman actually would feel and react.
Despite everything I did not like about this film, I would like to end this review by pointing out the positives. First, the visuals were quite unique and I was entertained by the creature designs. The action sequences were fun to watch and the moments with Bubble were endearing. This world that Luc Besson was trying to illustrate is vibrant and fascinating. I wanted to learn more about it and I think that says something, despite how I felt about the film’s overall story.
Altogether, with everything in mind, the score I give this movie is a 6/10; a D-. That is rather high considering the plot issues. Most of that score is going to the visuals and theatrical experience.