What happens when you give the guy who made The Fifth Element nearly $200 million to make an absolutely sprawling sci-fi movie based on a French comic book that most people in the mainstream movie going public have never even heard of? You get director Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which boils down to one of the most visually compelling, absolutely crazy, truly original, kind of ridiculous movies of 2017. Ridiculous or not, the visuals alone make it worth the ride.
Coming from EuropaCorp, Valerian takes place In the 28th century and centers on special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who work together to maintain order throughout the human territories, while also trying to navigate their complicated feelings toward one another. Under assignment from the minister of defense, the duo embarks on a mission to Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture. Things get complicated when a dark force threatens the peaceful but complicated massive space city. Valerian and Laureline wind up in a race against time to identify the menace that also jeopardizes the future of the universe.
To be frank, it would be unfair to say that Luc Besson didn't care about the story in Valerian. He clearly did. This was absolutely a passion project for the man and it shows. It just doesn't show in the actual narrative. Valerian sets up an interesting main story, then spends a lot of the movie sending the main characters on fun side quests that play out like episodes in a serialized sci-fi TV show, or maybe a futuristic video game. Then the plot eventually circles back to the thing that was set up in the first place after a bunch of other stuff happens.
This movie's strength does not lie in telling an all-time great story. Nor does it lie with Dane DeHaan or Cara Delevinge, or really any of the human cast members for that matter. Valerian is what happens when you give Avatar money to a mad visionary who has a truly unwieldy and enormous sandbox to play in. And the result is a visual masterpiece that sort of feels like a cross between Star Trek and Doctor Who, if somebody wanted to spend $185 million on such a thing. And somebody did. That is the strength of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. That is what it lives and dies by. And it lives, damn it.
There are more amazing creatures, action sequences, colors and visuals than anyone could possibly count. It is truly staggering in that respect. There is some unbelievably inventive, really crafty sci-fi concepts thrown in here as well. Credit where credit is due, Luc Besson had a vision for this thing and he made it happen. It may lack substance in some ways, but this is original and has vision. Even if it misses the mark in some places, it's hard not to love it for just how crazy it is. This is some hardcore sci-fi right here, folks. Not really thinking man's sci-fi, ala Blade Runner. Exactly the opposite.
This is going to be a divisive movie in the years to come. It will be a love hate thing, no doubt. But in an age when so many big movies feel like paint by numbers, or when some movies (looking at you, Transformers) feel like they just don't care anymore, Valerian clearly cares. This is a visionary filmmaker executing his vision. Even if, at times, it feels more like a ride than a movie, it's clear this is the movie he wanted to make. Let me put it this way: for all of the subtext and attempt at character stuff in a movie like Avatar, which in theory feels like it is a "better" movie and probably will be remembered as such, I'll take Valerian over that movie any day. It's just more fun.