To say Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets didn’t suck nearly as much as I thought it would is actually a generous compliment considering this looked to be 2017’s very own Jupiter Ascending (2015). Now although I didn’t like or really fully enjoy the movie there is enough in here to combat the many narrative flaws and provide a viewing experience that isn’t all bad. Directed by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element(1997)) Valerian (and the overly long title) follows special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) on a mission about a mysterious evil force threatening all life in the city of Alpha (or something like that), meanwhile there’s a mystery revolving around a very cool planet that is actually interesting. Narratively this movie is a shocker, as soon as the plot with Valerian and Laureline’s mission kicked in I checked out almost completely. It follows uninteresting characters on a mission the details of which I don’t really know which is essentially a journey made up of minor subplots and obstacles they need to continuously overcome one after the other. Visually it is incredible, the world(s) and species are very intriguing, and one narrative element is well executed……. everything else just doesn’t work.
Lets get the positive elements out of the way first. One of the things I knew I would love going into this movie is the world, or universe I should say, that this story takes place in. It’s always refreshing in films seeing locations that are new, original, and different to what we see around us every day, and that is the case here. Every time Valerian’s mission took him to a new planet with a distinct environment or he came across a new alien species I was momentarily intrigued. Seeing each of these uniquely designed species is admittedly quite cool and a breath of fresh air each time. But as the story is hardly bearable to follow, all this allows you to do is look, admire, and move on to the next window. The movie does start off phenomenally, it sets up the progression of Earth’s space exploration technology in a cool way and then moves on to focusing on an alien planet that is very vibrant and interesting……. and then Valerian shows up and I lost interest almost immediately.
As I mentioned, when looking at the special effects alone, this is an incredible sci-fi blockbuster. You can tell much of the $177M budget went into the special effects and honestly it pays off. My other main positive is plot related so I won’t get into it here but it does involve characters and a planet who aren’t heavily featured but I cared about more than literally everyone else in here, the one part of the narrative that is well developed throughout.
So the biggest negatives in here all revolve around the plot, the pacing, and to put it simply it’s hard to care about much of it. Dane DeHaan’s Valerian just isn’t a likeable protagonist, similar to Oliver Queen from The CW’s Arrow he just sucks the life out of almost every scene he’s in making it hard to root for his character. His relationship with Delevingne’s Laureline is dull, making for a number of boring scenes as I don’t see the chemistry between the two of them extending beyond workmates. Delevingne I like as an actress and although her character isn’t really a highlight here I could recognise the effort she was putting in here (unlike in Suicide Squad) and some of her unique charisma shone through allowing for some sort of engagement with her character. But the lack of effective humour here doesn’t do the characters any favours, they try to go for some humour here and there but none of it lands….. like at all…. and ineffective humour is many times worse than none at all.
The problem with this story is that even if you are able to discern exactly what is happening throughout the mission and why, you just don’t really care, and for me it has to do with one thing. They have this universe of worlds and alien species and it’s all cool sci-fi fantasy stuff and very intriguing but then the story being followed revolves around the least interesting beings present…. humans. Yes this takes place entirely in other planets and locations but the main players being humans is like someone handing you a bag of party mix lollies and saying you can only eat the teeth….. nobody wants the teeth. The plot moves at a pretty mediocre pace and although it is fairly consistent it’s just such a drainer as you are constantly waiting for it to touch on the cool element of the story. Everything feels very drawn out and it may be a 2 hour and 15 minute movie but my god does it feel like 3 hours plus. The first 10 and last 15 minutes are great, and they fly by, but everything in between feels like it goes on forever. There is even a perfect line in the film where it mentions that spending 2 hours with Valerian is a drag…… couldn’t be more on point.
So yes, much of the plot of this film stinks, and what it chooses to focus on for the majority of its runtime is a bunch of uninteresting subplots Valerian and Laureline need to get through in order to get to the good stuff, which is really the beginning and end. Despite being dull and having to follow these characters for 2 hours being agonising I have to say that i’m thankful they took the story to so many unique places. The world and alien species make for a number of intriguing moments that make you want to know more about them and their culture and then disappoints you when it moves on from them. Of the humans, Cara Delevingne showed the most signs of life and charisma so there’s a shining light there and on a side note, if you a Rihanna fan and are sucked into seeing this because Rihanna is one of the top billed actors…… don’t. She isn’t in it much and you will be disappointed, so just move on.