Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets is the latest summer sci-fi blockbuster. The film is based on a series of French comics first published in 1967. Valerian has been a passion project for director Luc Besson, who read the comics as a child. After making The Fifth Element, Besson realized that it was possible for him to make Valerian. He then financed the film independently, resulting in a modest budget of $180 million. Without depending on a major studio, Besson could make the movie he wanted to make. Now, five decades after the comics were first published, Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets is released into theaters. Valerian is Luc Besson’s fully realized vision which isn’t always a good thing. While the film is visually spectacular and pushes the boundaries of CGI, the writing and characters leave much to be desired.
The film stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as Valerian and Laureline. The duo is tasked with finding and eliminating a threat against Alpha, a metropolis where species from all across the galaxy live in harmony, sharing their knowledge. Besson showcases his creativity with creating the ‘city of a thousand planets’. The CGI, for the most part, is perfect. There were a few cases of noticeably bad CGI aliens and green screen issues, but it’s shocking how seamless the CGI is. Given that the entirety of Alpha is computer generated, it’s breathtakingly beautiful and stimulating. A film like Valerian benefits from being seen on the big screen.It was almost impossible being bored while watching Valerian. The countless action sequences were exciting and refreshing to watch. There’s a scene where Dane DeHaan’s Valerian runs through Alpha, bursting through walls revealing the various environments of Alpha that’s jaw dropping to watch. Though not perfect, Besson builds an original and well developed world that a lot of blockbusters struggle with. Even during the slower scenes, there was so much to see and take in. There’s so much material to work with in Valerian that a sequel won’t be difficult to conjure up.
While Valerian benefits from Besson’s creativity, the film suffers from the inexcusably awful writing. It’s shocking to me that with the 180 billion dollar budget, the writing is some of the worst I’ve had to sit through in a major blockbuster. Perhaps the worst aspect of the writing was the forced romance between Valerian and Laureline. When we are first introduced to the couple, Laureline is mad about Valerian forgetting her birthday. Soon after, Valerian proposes to her and the rest of the film is bogged down with forced interactions between the two as Valerian tries to get an answer to his proposal. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne both struggle with the material. They both seem to have trouble knowing if they should be taking the film serious or having fun. DeHaan has fun but seems miscast while Cara brings the movie down with her confused performance. Luckily, Ethan Hawke and Rihanna know exactly what type of movie they’re in and have fun with their cameos.
The plot of Valerian plays out better than projected in the trailer but it’s still flattened by the writing. None of the human characters are developed enough to care for them. Also it’s extremely easy to tell who’s the good guys and bad guys. There could’ve been some mystery surrounding the true villain but we figure out who it is shortly after being introduced to the character. Because of this, the peril doesn’t seem to exist. Even the interesting plot points are overshadowed by the writing. But the films focus on visuals and action make it worth seeing. It’s a miracle that Valerian wasn’t completely ruined by the writing and dated story.
Perhaps a decade ago, Valerian would be met with the same reaction as Avatar or Guardians of the Galaxy. It has some of the best and creative CGI in recent memory but in this era of superhero blockbusters, Valerian will seemingly fly just under the radar. Audiences will possibly chose the latest Marvel or DC movie and pass on Valerian. It’s a shame because Valerian, even with all the faults, is one of the most enjoyable blockbusters in recent memory. With a better cast and script, Valerian could’ve been a great start to a franchise worth continuing.