Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review: An Out of This World Cinematic Experience.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was easily one of my most anticipated releases of 2017. The panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2016 was my introduction to the film’s existence. Filmmaker Luc Besson took to the stage and showed a passionate Hall H crowd exclusive images and clips from the film. The footage blew me away and left me wanting more ever since. The recent television spots and trailers have only confirmed my overwhelming excitement for the film.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the big screen adaptation of the French comic series Valérian and Laureline. As a lifelong fan of the series, Luc Besson has been patiently waiting for decades to bring this beloved comic to life. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets takes place in the year 2740 and follows special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) as they embark on a mission to the city of Alpha aka the City of a Thousand Planets. Once they arrive, the duo discovers that a dark and evil force is threatening the universe and it is up to them to track down the source and stop it.
Visual technology has truly evolved over the past decade. The most recent string of Marvel and Disney films have proven to be visually stunning but aren’t exactly what I would consider cinematic events. The IMAX 3D release of Avatar back in 2009 was the last time that I remember watching something that was a hailed as a technological game-changer and needed to be experienced in the theater.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets reaches a new level of visual achievement and is a must-see cinematic experience that without question must be viewed on the biggest screen that you can find. This is the only way that a viewer will be able to fully appreciate the world that Besson has created. Luc Besson has achieved visual perfection that has far surpassed what Marvel and Disney have achieved over the past decade. The visuals in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will be studied by filmmakers for decades to come.
While the film is a visual treat from start to finish, there are a few select scenes that stand out among the rest. There is a scene in the Big Market that literally made my jaw drop. In this scene, Valerian is attempting to recover the Mul converter and keeps going back and forth between visible and invisible. As a viewer, we see Valerian running through the marketplace with so much going on around him including being chased by various species. It’s hard to explain the brilliance of this scene but when you see it, I am pretty sure you will be blown away by it as well.
Another standout moment features Bubble, a shape-shifter played by Rihanna. The scene features Bubble changing into elaborate costumes while Valerian watches her. The scene is like watching a strip show but it is all about the visuals rather than the skin. Once again, it’s hard to explain how visually incredible this scene is in writing but when you see it, you will understand why I pointed it out.
Besson’s script is simplistic but fits the film’s tone. The awe-inspiring visuals and oddball supporting characters will keep audiences interested and invested despite the simple plot. The citizens of planet Mül are particularly interesting. They add some much-needed depth to the story and are arguably the most interesting species in the film. There are also three duck-like alien creatures known as The Doghan Daguis. They are highly entertaining while also serving a purpose to help move the story along. There are several other alien-like characters in the film and most of them reminded me a lot of the alien characters from the Fifth Element. The film’s tone is very similar to the Fifth Element as well. There are a few moments where felt like Besson was trying to recreate the world that he built in the Fifth Element.
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are front and center throughout most of the film. DeHaan works surprisingly well as the film’s snarky male lead while Delevingne tries her best to be a strong and independent female. DeHaan was terrific in A Cure for Wellnessearlier this year and is just as great here. Valerian is a bit cocky but also charming. He can be a badass when he wants to be but definitely has a softer side that he is afraid to show. DeHaan has proven this year that he can pretty much tackle any genre and do it justice. I am glad that he continues to push himself as an actor.
While I didn’t think Delevingne was bad, I do feel like she struggled with the material at times. Laureline is supposed to be sarcastic, independent, and strong-willed. Delevingne does well with the sarcasm but rarely does she come across as humorous. There are several times in the film where I felt Delevingne’s performance was a bit one-note despite the material asking for more. Delevingne and DeHaan have decent chemistry but their back and forth flirting ranges from amusing to awkward. It’s strange because some of their scenes together really work and others fall flat. I don’t blame DeHaan but rather Delevingne’s lack of acting experience. I feel she hasn’t had enough experience yet to warrant being hired as the lead in a huge summer Blockbuster.
The supporting cast members aren’t exactly supporting roles but rather glorified cameos. Clive Owen doesn’t have much to do and is pretty forgettable. Ethan Hawke shows up as Jolly the Pimp for about 10 minutes. Hawke is amusing and fun to watch. The voice actors such as Elizabeth Debicki and John Goodman do solid work but their characters aren’t in the film all that much. The standout among the entire cast without question is Rihanna as Bubble. While Bubble only shows up for about 20 minutes, she is the film’s MVP. She steals the show from DeHaan and Delevingne whenever they are on-screen together. I almost wonder what the film would have been like if Delevingne switched roles with Rihanna.
While the performances are rather hit and miss, they don’t really affect my overall enjoyment of the film. I was entertained and engaged from start to finish even with the 137-minute runtime. There is something to be said about a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to let his imagination run wild. Besson is a remarkable filmmaker and one that creates films that stand out. He takes chances which is why almost all his films have become cult classics. The Fifth Element wasn’t exactly a box-office juggernaut but the film has stood the test of time. I firmly believe the same will happen with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. This one has cult classic written all over it.
At the end of the day, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one of the most visually stunning films ever made. It is a visual game-changer and one of the most memorable films of the summer. Luc Besson continues to prove that he is a visionary filmmaker and isn’t afraid to make films that challenge audiences. He continues to create beautiful worlds that will serve as an inspiration to future filmmakers. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the first film in nearly eight years that must be seen in theaters. Do yourself a favor and find the best theater, order the biggest popcorn, and just enjoy Luc Besson’s latest visual masterpiece.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s Rating for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an 8.5 out of 10.