Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Valerian from here on out) is a hallucinogenic science fiction epic that, despite its many flaws, manages to be a fun excursion into outer space.
Valerian opens on an audacious sequence, as we follow the growth of the international space station across centuries, with astronauts of different ethnicities and creeds, and eventually different species, coming together to form what will eventually become the titular city of a thousand planets. It’s a vivid utopian vision that ultimately presages little of what’s to come.
The opening of the film is certainly the most ambitious and grounded part of the film; what follows is exhilaratingly odd-ball, two hours of utterly unhinged special effects, bold visual concepts and science fiction technologies and alien species. At times, Valerian verges on video game levels of visual effects, but at best, it seamlessly blends the spectacle.
The visual effects, the vision and bold ideas of Valerian deserve a lot of praise, but unfortunately, the story and characters are less deserving. The story of Valerian takes a long while to come into focus, almost too long, and the main characters of the film, the titular Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his companion, Laureline (Cara Delevingne) feel almost inessential, in addition to having next to no chemistry. Delevingne’s eyebrows are the only interesting thing about either character; DeHaan, in particular, seems to be channeling the worst elements of Keanu Reeves’ most flaccid moments as an actor. Neither seems particularly good at delivering the dialogue they’re given (which is admittedly quite stilted).
Valerian is an almost mind-bending adventure, featuring all manner of strange aliens and a cast of guest actors ranging from John Goodman to Clive Owen. The standout among this cast is Rihanna, who features in a brief (too brief?) sequence that utterly weaponizes her sexuality before she suffers a fate that her character does not deserve.
While I found this to be a very flawed film, if it does get a sequel as Besson seems to think may be possible, I’ll gladly check it out. There’s such visual flair to this film, so much eye candy, that if there’s even a fraction of a story to hold things together, it will be worth the time spent watching.