Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Jacob Richardson | 13/08/2017

A vibrant, utterly insane piece of filmmaking, that once again demonstrates Luc Besson’s desire to innovate and create without restriction, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an undoubted mess, albeit an endearing one.

Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) awakens from a vivid dream. A planet has been destroyed, and with it an entire people. His partner/love interest, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevigne), guides their ship down to their next mission - the retrieval of a transmuter (the last of it’s kind) from an epic inter-dimensional marketplace. Valerian and Laureline retrieve the little beastie, but when they bring it and a mystical pearl back to Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen), it seems that they have found their way into a conspiracy involving a lost people, a cover-up of gigantic proportions and Valerian’s mysterious dream.


Valerian feels like a spiritual successor to Fifth Element, albeit with much worse dialogue and a much more confused plot. Besson has once again created an energetic visual landscape, resplendent with every colour imaginable. Early montages of humanity experiencing first contact with a wide and imaginative array of alien life forms is incredibly inventive, and some of the set design is immersive and visually sumptuous.


It’s a shame, then, that Besson’s defined and recognised ability to create incredible universes on film is not backed up, in this case, with a structure that drives interest. Valerian is messy. Structurally and tonally, it darts too much to create any sense of actual interest in the plot. The story is an utterly confusing and never gives you any reason to get involved or believe that either lead character’s life is under threat. In fact, watching Valerian, you get the feeling that any loss of life would be laughably unlikely. There are no stakes, and this is backed up by an edit and soundtrack that sap the life and frenetic energy out of any action scene. You’re watching incredible VFX and chase scenes, but it is slapped together so poorly and cut to such unobtrusive music that it feels, tonally, like there is no action taking place.


It’s a shame, because the characters aren’t actually that offensive to one’s cinematic sensibilities. Valerian and Laureline, despite controversy over Delevigne’s casting (she’s actually not bad in this), are generally likeable together - an incredible statement to make given the immense weight of terrible dialogue they have to overcome to get to this point. Besson, who wrote the screenplay, saddles not only our two leads, but every character in the movie, with dialogue so gratingly poor it should preclude him from writing a screenplay ever again. His direction may be fine, but his ability to write convincing dialogue that doesn’t have an audience cringing at every turn is utterly absent in this film.


Visually outstanding, and with hints of Fifth Element’s incredible colour palette, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an intriguing entry into a world that would be interesting to explore again. Unfortunate, then, that Besson delivers a toothless experience, coupled with cringe-worthy dialogue, that surely kills any potential franchise opportunities that these occasionally loveable characters ever had.