Review for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) Directed by Luc Besson. Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen. IMDB says “A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.”
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
I’m a DeHaan devotee. Ever since seeing his performance in Chronicle I’ve watched everything he’s been in. I don’t know what it is about him that appeals to me. He just has this… thing and any project he’s in, I’m going to check it out. That was the first draw to this film. The second was the fact that a Beatles song was used in the trailer. Granted it was that EDM remixed style where the drums slam along to perfectly choreographed action, but the actual vocals were used. That’s huge. Fairly certain Beatles vocals have never been used in a trailer before (do feel free to correct me in the comments section if I’m wrong). So, a favorite actor of mine PLUS a pivotal song from the Abbey Road album? I’m in.
Valerian and the Planet of a Thousand Cities is the latest film from Luc Besson (Lucy, Fifth Element) based on the French graphic novel series Valerian and Laureline. It’s the story of Valerian (Dane DeHann) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) and they have been tasked with collecting a rare artifact. As you can imagine, things get interesting when Valerian begins to have bizarre dreams, their recon mission goes sideways, and they soon find they’re being chased by a mysterious force. A majority of the film takes place on Alpha, a planet made of hundreds of alien subsystems that we’re introduced to in the opening of the film. It’s one of the coolest film openings I’ve seen in a long time. What Watchmen’s opening did for the history of the titular characters, this film does for the history of the planet.
From there, the film had a hard time keeping my attention. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just the whole film felt poorly cast, the plot is bland and predictable, and the acting is lacking. Again, I’m a fan of DeHaan, but I couldn’t help but feel he wasn’t right for this part. He doesn’t have the screen presence to pull off this intergalactic hero who’s a charismatically womanizing multi-medal winning Major. I didn’t buy it and because I didn’t, his character comes across as a snide jerk who’s forcing himself onto his partner who kinda just goes with it. Then there is Delevingne, who’s acting is fine, but she really isn’t given anything to work with. We’re constantly reminded that she’s smarter and is a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man, but she never really does anything with that. There is little to no chemistry between these two leads and it makes the forced romantic subplot feel VERY one sided. If this was the third film in the franchise and we’d gotten to know these two better I’d have an easier time believing the relationship between the two. Even the cameos feel out of place: Ethan Hawke shows up as a pimp (for not nearly long enough), Rhianna is a shapeshifter, John Goodman lends his voice to a meaningless character, and Clive Owen shows up and lacks any emotional depth. These should all be wonderful things, but they come across as bizarre plot advancements that add nothing to the film other than a reprieve from DeHaan and Delevingne.
On a more positive note, the effects work is stunning. I truly felt like I was in other worlds and that the creatures we saw before us were people in make-up and not computer-generated images. I found myself being more interested in these alien creatures and what their worlds are like. It didn’t happen often, but what took away from the effects work was the RealD 3D. At times it made everything look blurry and out of focus and other times you couldn’t even focus on what was going on which was frustrating. The score, outside of two stand out songs, is pretty standard. Nothing exciting or whistle worthy. One thing that did surprise me was the pacing. No real drags or slow moments, the film does a great job of jumping from scene to scene, trying it’s hardest to keep our attention.
It’s not like I hyped myself up for this film, but I did expect a little more than style over substance. While I do recommend seeing this in theatres, just for the sheer size and quality of the CGI, if you waited for the rental you wouldn’t be missing much.
FTS SCORE: 62%
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is in theaters everywhere nationwide.