Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

2017 in Cinema:

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, 2017

Directed by: Luc Besson

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

 

This film looks like the director and producers all thought to create a beautiful film that looked incredible, before realising they needed some sort of plot and shoehorning one in at the last minute. The whole film just feels like a chase (there’s three instances where an individual/group stole something and a large chase ensued). Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an interstellar science fiction action-adventure film which centres around its two protagonists, Valerian and Laureline (the original comics are actually titled Valerian and Laureline, yet her name got dropped from the film’s title), who are two partners (in both senses of the word, it seems) in the human police force. We are introduced to them and a chase scene ensues (they steal an item which is illegally being traded between two parties), the first of a few chase scenes that seem only to showcase the special effects of the film and to allow characters to move from one spot to another to continue on its plot.

We do not meet Valerian and Laureline initially, though, as the first scene gives us information about the space station called Alpha. Showing us how it evolved from 2020 to 2150, growing in size until it became extremely large and filled with many, many species of aliens. The next scene is from a peaceful beach-like planet, Mül, where a group of humanoid creatures are living. During this scene we follow Princess Lihö-Minaa as she greets a few friends and family and uses a small creature to turn one small pearl into hundreds (as is the creature’s magical powers). This scene is probably one of the best in the film. We are not given much dialogue, save for a greeting, and everything is done perfectly: the emotion on their faces, the behaviour of their species, the time they are afforded. If all the film was presented in a similar fashion to this it would have received a much higher score. However, the planet is attacked and from there on it’s one chase scene after another, all of whom are seeking the last remaining small creature.

The shift is noticeable; going from a scene where we are allowed time to invest into this world and the characters in it, yet later on we are not afforded this luxury. Valerian is presented as a womanising cocky lad who, unfortunately, doesn’t have much character development throughout the film. He’s in a relationship (I assume) with his partner, Laureline, prior to the film’s beginning but they do not kiss and the writing is a bit vague about their relationship so it can be a bit confusing to know where exactly they are. One scene she bemoans his database which is full of pictures of the ladies he’s slept with (but he’s not going to be like that with her, she’s special), and she asks him to delete these pictures, saying she’ll only be with a man who is prepared to delete them. This is never mentioned again. We do not get the payoff later on where he deletes them, nor does she ever mention them; it genuinely seems like a scene thrown in to show his character prior to the film, but its problem is he doesn’t evolve: he still comes across as the same character by the end of the film (at one point he barely thanks Laureline for rescuing him from an area of Alpha that is prohibited). A solid character dynamic between the pair could have really improved this film but we are not given one.

Whether it’s the fault of the director, editors or the writers the dramatic realisation moments are poorly executed. As just aforementioned, Laureline goes to the ‘Red Zone’ to recue Valerian, and shortly afterwards he notes how they’ve been ‘lied to’ and that they ‘can breathe’ there. It’s not mentioned beforehand, subtly or otherwise, that this area is uninhabitable (just that they cannot trace it and it banned from entering) and this happens a few times throughout the film where not enough emphasis was built around a certain even or piece of information to increase these dramatic twist moments.

Negatives aside, though, this film looks gorgeous. The aliens are so well-detailed and the locations (from Alpha to Mül to a massive shopping centre which is only visible through headsets, without they are simply walking in a beach), are so perfect and awe-inspiring. The complete contrast of the shopping centre (from beach to massive shopping district) is brilliant early on, the relaxing nature of planet Mül looks peaceful and beautiful and Alpha, the city of a thousand planets, is extremely well put-together. One chase scene takes us through various parts of the location, each inhabiting a different type of alien. And then the red zone increases this with more aliens and more locations. While it may lack in regards to a plot and its writing, nothing negative can be ushered to its presentation.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets does seem to be a film which intends you to focus on its appearance rather than what it presents. A Poorly written script, which fails to build a successful plot or nice character development, is combined with average acting. And its end scene, the big final conflict, seems awfully short, which is a shame considering the film’s time length, and lacklustre (again, due to its writing).

 

Plot: * *

Acting: * *

Writing: * *

Presentation: * * * * *

Overall Rating: * * ¾

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