Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the 3D event movie of the summer, full of big budget imagination and visual spectacle, while occasionally coming up short with its plot and character development. Still, it's a rare treat that needs to be experienced on the largest screen possible.
Director Luc Besson returns to the “big budget event film” arena with his wild and imaginative adaptation of the underground comic book Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. There is no doubt that Valerian is a gorgeous-looking 3D spectacle that absolutely must be experienced in theaters, but will the film hold up to repeat at-home viewings? Probably not as well as I hope.
Valerian follows Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) as they trek across the galaxy on their latest mission, which starts out as a simple snatch and grab, morphs into a full-fledged security detail and then ends up potentially saving an entire species from extinction.
The film bites off a rather large chunk and wastes very little time trying to chew and swallow. Director Luc Besson has been called a visionary before, having helmed the cult classic The Fifth Element and now he returns to that familiar creative well for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which at the very least as a visually stimulating experience that’s as “out there” as you can get for Hollywood filmmaking.
Many are going to falsely blame the film’s failure on the casting choices of both Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne and their “lack” of chemistry and poorly written lines and let me stop you right there. It is true that Valerian isn’t as well written as one might hope for such a film bursting with ideas and impulse. It does occasionally fumble in its storytelling, leaving the plot as a somewhat simple story that tries to surround itself in complexity and that’s almost totally fine, because at least the world that Besson has created feels lived in and established.
There’s just so much bursting from the screen in all directions that it honestly might take someone a good fifteen to twenty minutes to fully comprehend what is going on and how it’s all possible.
Besson’s world-building skills are madly on point and downright impressive and often-times astonishing. Add on the surcharge of 3D and you truly have a unique movie-going experience unlike anything before it. Valerian is going to be the new standard for 3D filmmaking for years to come and might even help sell the 4K format because of its use of colors and how they can be applied using HDR.
But the film is far more than a visual sizzle reel. It has depth and distinction, mostly because of its two unlikely leads. Many are writing off Dane DeHaan‘s performance as lazy and wooden, like an early Keanu Reeves performance and I refuse to spout out the same complaints. I personally think that DeHaan is extremely talented and somewhat misunderstood. His performance is intentionally awkward, because of Valerian’s whole shallow cockiness approach. He’s both the most confident guy in the room and the most insecure. It’s a genius performance, fully realized by DeHaan and if anything is to blame I’d point to the script, because DeHaan’s line delivery seems to match the somewhat tongue-and-cheeck tone of the film, which is established and reminded throughout the film.
His co-star Cara Delevingne is equally charismatic, giving Valerian a companion that’s just as bad ass as he is, if only more beautiful and let’s face it — smart. Delevingne’s Laureline is the brains of the duo, while Valerian is the muscle. The two work together marvelously as partners and almost better as potential lovers.
I like that the film skirts on that notion, because it creates a unique tension that becomes fully developed by the end of the film. It also wisely doesn’t bog the film down when unnecessary. It acts as a plot mechanic that gets fleshed out as the film progresses forward, but in a way that some will write off as awkward and off-putting, yet I’d describe as natural and quirky.
There’s nothing about Valerian that’s normal, so why should the relationships?
The film also does a great job highlighting some of its supporting characters. Ethan Hawke briefly plays a fun and bubbly pimp, while pop singer Rihanna literally plays an alien called Bubbles. The two give the film a much-needed third act dose of fun, with Hawke providing the laughs and Rihanna providing the emotion.
It works, not as strong as the core duo, but strong enough to give them someone else to interact with.
The only thing that truly ruins Valerian‘s mojo and rhythm is the script’s general plot. For a movie with so many characters and worlds it sure doesn’t tell the most complex or surprising of stories. And I’m not sure if the source material is to blame or if director Luc Besson simply got lost in the visual beauty of the film that he was trying to construct.
Valerian and a City of a Thousand Planets is still an eye-dazzling film. Rough edges sure, but a marvel that will surely be appreciated for years to come. Catch this on the big screen and in 3D before it’s too late.