Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a visually bold, but strangely meandering film. There's no denying the wizardry of the spectacle. The special effects and costumes are amazing. Director Luc Besson bathes the screen in lush vibrancy. The problem is that the lead characters do not resonate. Their lack of dynamism and the convoluted plot add serious drag. It never reaches the point of rousing sci-fi adventure, but makes an all out effort to get there.
Set hundreds of years in the future, the initial human space station has grown into a planet sized behemoth called Alpha. This wondering mega-colony incorporates countless species from across the galaxy. Hence the moniker, City of a Thousand Planets. When Alpha's existence is threatened by a mysterious force, the human council calls its most elite soldier to investigate. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) has no problems pummeling bad guys. It's winning the affection of his partner Laureline (Carla Delevingne) that escapes him.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on the classic French comics by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres. There's forty years of history supporting these characters. Luc Besson adores Valerian and Laureline. It's obvious in every frame. He wants to show you everything in their universe. It's just a mouthful too big to chew. There's so much going on in this story. The narrative thread loses focus. The film gets too bogged down with expansive settings and supporting characters. They are inventive and magnificent to see, but ultimately dulls the pace. This is specifically the case with Rihanna's character. Her role is important, but takes up way too much time in the story.
Dane DeHaan and Carla Delevingne don't quite connect. They look good together, but fail to achieve warmth in their interactions. Valerian is smitten by Laureline, but she's wary of his playboy past. DeHaan fawns throughout, while Delevingne seems oddly bored of his pursuit. Their relationship is front and center, but altogether mechanical. It needed to have a spark, be more scintillating. I'll compare it to Han Solo and Princess Leia. There's a palpable tension the audience can feel between them. That's missing here with Valerian and Laureline.
The stunning quality of the effects makes up for the shortcomings. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is simply gorgeous. Besson and his production team immerse you in these incredible worlds. Everything is crisp and colorful with razor sharp 3D contours. The costume design is equally superb. I got a kick out of the wild headpieces the characters wear. Science-fiction often looks dreary and bleak. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is imaginative and colorful.
From STX Films and Europa Corp., Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will definitely appeal to science-fiction fans. If you liked Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, then you'll probably be into this film. It isn't as good, but has a similar appeal with the visual effects and zany characters. Besson would have been more successful if he'd made this an origin story. We jump in headfirst with Valerian and Laureline as established characters. I would have liked to see how they met, got started as bad-ass agents. The romance might have had better traction.