Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, written and directed by Luc Besson, delivers a fantastical universe, filled with creatures, locations and set-pieces that dazzle the eyes. But… well that’s pretty much it. Valerian is a film bursting with things to look at, but beyond that there is a notable dearth of compelling content. So, is Luc Besson’s long envisioned project all show and no substance? Well, let’s explore that and more in my review.
Alpha, a collection of more than a thousand species from all over the galaxy is in danger, as a mysterious force threatens its safety. Two special operatives, Major Valerian – played by Dane DaHaan – and Sergeant Laureline – played by Cara Delevingne – must seek out the danger and eliminate it before disaster strikes. However, something more insidious lies behind the supposed truth and it could be an even greater threat, if it is not brought to light.
Going into this film, I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the visual style of it, as to me it didn’t look that appealing in the trailers. But I have to say, when the film started, I was pretty impressed by what I was seeing. The effects in this film line up really well with the real-world counterparts that they’re interacting with and there were also some pretty great looking practical aliens (which I’m a sucker for). In the beginning, I was really enjoying being able to explore these fantastical worlds, where on them there were some really fun, interestingly constructed set-pieces. However, as I would later realise, it was all actually a distraction for the total lack of anything within the actual film – but I’ll get to that in moment.
It’s clear when watching Valerian (which is how I’ll now refer to the film for this review, as the actual title is a little tedious to write out every time) that the people who were tasked with creating all of the fantastical worlds and odd-looking alien species etc. Probably had an absolute blast making this film. The creative freedom they must have had, to create whatever their minds could conjure up, must have been liberating. And I must say, that the visual effects artists, the set designers, the costume designers, pretty much anyone involved with the visual aspects of this film, did an absolute incredible job in bringing so many unique looking things to life.
But the only problem with all their work, is that there is just so much of it. Sensory overload is an inevitable downfall in Valerian. As the film progresses, there is more and more things on-screen and you simply can’t take it all in. It all soon blends into this big, colourful, shiny mess of things that you can’t really distinguish between. How does the saying go? ‘Less is more.’ Valerian could have perhaps made that its motto when building its visuals, as after a while it all becomes incomprehensible.
What it does do well with those visuals onslaughts though, are some ingenious set-pieces. With the various locations that are visited in the film, comes unique rules to each of them and from that comes some really fun little set-pieces for the characters to get wrapped up in. A heist between two dimensions on the same planet being a perfect example.
However, pretty looking worlds and intriguing looking aliens and fun set-pieces only really work if they are backed up by a film that has some actual substance to it, and Valerian simply does not. For a film that is overloaded with visual treats for your eyes to try to comprehend and enjoy, it is shocking just how actually empty this film is (from a content standpoint).
Let’s take perhaps the biggest problem with the film: It has no characters. Now, to be clear, there are two main actors, playing a protagonist each, and the film follows them on their adventures, but… I could not tell you one thing about them that made them worth watching. I’m going to go ahead and simply list off some of the things missing from the two main characters: Range, depth, charisma, believability, chemistry, likeability, substance, a reason to care about them and their personal story. I could go on.
The two main characters in this film are simply awful to watch. It was an issue that was apparent early on and it never righted itself. And it was perhaps the primary factor (but not the only factor) in why I quickly became totally disinterested in this film.
So where does the fault lie? Well, in a few areas actually, but the one I want to touch upon primarily, is the two actors behind the roles. I’m not a fan of disparaging actors and their work but I can’t get away from the fact that both Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne were poor choices to lead the film. Though I’ve already listed the attributes that both actors/characters lacked, I still want to explore them a little bit more, as I’m honestly bewildered as to how Luc Besson – a director who has always chosen well and then subsequently gotten the best out of the actors he has worked with – came to the decision that these two actors would be the best options in leading his massive space adventure.
They simply have no on-screen presence that makes them people you want to watch. At no point did I believe, Dane DeHaan was this tough, womanising, decorated officer who always got the job done – he simply did not have the range or the physicality that properly communicated that to me. Nor did I ever see Cara Delevingne as this brilliant tactician who was always there to clean up the mess made by Dehaan’s character, but that was more because of how she was portrayed in nearly every scene (the extended scene in which she was the damsel in distress felt completely counterintuitive to her character). It was a mess all round, when the two protagonists are considered. From both the acting side and also the handling of the characters within the film itself, there was simply a massive failing in making them feel like the people they were supposed to be.
Unfortunately, that’s not where the problems stop. Valerian is a film that is encumbered with problems, and speaking of encumbered, we come to the plot of the film, which is laden with mounds upon mounds of exposition, and is frankly predictable and boring. I struggled to remember the driving force of the film on more than one occasion and that’s mainly because it is delivered in a tedious way, which in turn made me uninterested in paying attention to what the point of the story actually was. Also add to that, that it is a very bog-standard plot that never goes beyond the simple or the mundane.
And I suppose what doesn’t help make the story interesting to interact with is the delivery of… well any of it. The dialogue in the film is noticeably bad – at times causing me to need to hold back laughter. It’s a double-edged sword where the writing is schlocky and cliché, and then the delivery of it is uncomfortably bad. Valerian is a film that quite noticeably stands out – visually – it’s impossible to not be pulled in by the cacophony of things on offer, so it’s a shame that everything else around it is either boring to consume or simply basic in its construction. When you’re 20 minutes in to a 2 hour and 17-minute film and the wonder of the universe on offer starts to lose its appeal and you realise there hasn’t been anything else that has yet grabbed your attention, you know that you have a long, dull 1 hour and 57-minutes ahead of you. That was my realisation and oh boy was this a tough film to make it through, and it only worsened because of all the negatives I’ve pointed out in this review.
I should also point out that I have barely scratched the surface of problems, when it comes to Valerian, for example the extended and unnecessary scene where Rihanna shows up and prances around for a while and then leaves – it’s so bad. I just feel at this point that it would be unfair to continue to tear this film apart, as I feel I’ve adequately made my point.
I love Luc Besson’s earlier work and I have been eager to see some new, mad creation of his on the big screen for a while now. And so, it is really disappointing that this is it. I like to try to find the positives in films and shine a light on them, and I suppose the vast universe that is on show in the film could be that positive, but other than that, Valerian is simply a bad film, which pains me to say, but that is honestly what I think.
So, it won’t come as any surprise when I say that, I in no way recommend Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I personally don’t want to bash this film any more as I don’t enjoy doing it. I’ll leave you by saying that this is a film you should pass on. Maybe watch it at home with a bunch of friends (when you can) and try to enjoy it that way.
I’m really interested to know what you thought of Valerian, so please leave your opinions in the comments down below. It would be great if you could follow my blog directly and follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as any support would be great. I’ll finish now, by thanking you for taking the time to read my review and I hope you liked it enough to return.