Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Starring Dane DeHann & Cara Delevingne
Written and Directed by Luc Besson, based on the comic series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 49%
A hugely respected comic franchise running since the 1960s, Valerian is one of the finest sci-fi comic series to ever come out of the European territories. A film adaptation had been hugely anticipated, and in Luc Besson, a native Frenchman and hugely respected sci-fi filmmaker, the franchise had its dream leader to take it into the modern world, and the major picture budget to match the comic’s scope.
So what on earth went wrong?! Lets have a look…
On their way to another mission for the United Human Federation, Major Valerian (DeHann) dreams of a peaceful world destroyed through mysterious circumstances. Assisted by his partner Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne) they take part in a mission to reclaim an ancient artefact, but when they return to Alpha – the ‘City of a Thousand Planets’ – they discover that their thriving home is under threat from a mysterious virus spreading from its core. With no answers given as to its origin, the two soldiers are tasked with defending the commander in charge of the mission, but when Valerian discovers a link between the virus and the eradicated species from his dreams, Valerian and Laureline take it upon themselves to discover the truth.
At a time when we begin to feel like all sci-fi films are somewhat similar, Valerian manages to offer something bursting at the seams with artistic creativity, so much so that the film seems structurally inept. The many worlds that this film takes you through – at least it feels like a lot – are popping with colour and individuality, but its the depth that these worlds are developed to, and the confidence with which the film has to run with it, that makes this such an interesting watch at first. Immediately thrown into a world full of gizmos and gadget that are unexplained but taken as the norm means this film takes you straight out of your comfort zone and into a wonderous state of confusion.
After the opening hour-or-so, the film begins to settle into a more predictable, uninspiring rhythm. Valerian’s story, despite the ocean of source material to pick from, is depressingly simple and at no point threatens to be anything more than linear. The story could have been told in a cheap, 90-minute flick with time to spare, which means that the last hour of this marathon movie feels like a serious slog towards an inevitably mediocre conclusion.
Through all this, Valerian and Laureline maintain a charismatic double-act that somewhat mirrors the film as a whole. At first their camaraderie and playful relationship is really entertaining to watch, but as time goes by and the lines become more predictable their relationship gains something of a plastic gloss, feeling much colder and dehumanised than Besson intended. As individuals Valerian and Laureline, DeHann and Delevingne delivered pretty solid performances – arguments about their likeness to the source characters rightly put aside – however their relationship as a duo didn’t seem quite right.
Strangely, for a film that felt like it could have been at least one hour shorter Valerian as a whole feels like it’s been a little rushed. While beautifully creative visually, everything else about it feels like it needed a bit more refining before being released. The two main actors didn’t quite click, Luc Besson’s direction of the expansive world needed more organisation and the story needed many more layers. Beautiful to look at but little else, Valerian is a film full of passion but little thought, with a pitiful plot that shouldn’t have ever graced a major box-office release.