“Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets”: Very Pretty But Even Messier

Imagine you’re writing a screenplay. You’ve created the world, you know all the points to hit, but you put in placeholder dialogue for this first draft. Each character says exactly what they’re thinking so that it’ll be easier to punch up their lines in a later draft. You write in the margins “the visual effects will be VERY good” so you don’t forget.

Suddenly, someone barges in the room and says your final script is due today. They take your rough first draft and leave.

THAT is exactly what Valerian is.

From the trailers, my best guess for Valerian (I really don’t want to type that full title a lot, I’m a sleepy boy) was that it would end up being just a very pretty mess of a movie, and I don’t think it would surprise anyone to find out that is exactly the truth.

LET’S JUST ASSUME SPOILERS FROM HERE, IF YOU HAPPEN TO CARE ABOUT THIS ONE.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (ugh) begins with a prologue explaining how the space station Alpha came to be, how it began with countries coming together and expanded to draw in countless alien races. The station continued to grow until it was too big to remain in Earth’s orbit. Alpha and it’s millions of friendly races left the orbit to become a beacon in the universe for peace.

Now we meet our leads, Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), two special agents working for the space government on Alpha. Valerian has a dream about an alien race being eliminated as ships fall from the sky and destroy their planet. He wakes up and brushes it off, as he and his partner have a mission. They’re supposed to sneak into a marketplace that you can only see with special goggles and retrieve a small creature called a “converter”, which just so happened to appear in Valerian’s dream. They’re almost caught, but they manage to escape and head back to report in.

They discover that part of the station has been lost to a bizarre radiation leak. No signals can get through it, and all search parties have been lost to the zone as well. Valerian and Laureline are assigned to Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) as he tries to find a way to stop the spread of the radiation. The Commander briefs a meeting room on the radiation, but they are ambushed by something that we can’t see. The Commander is taken with them, but Valerian frees himself and the others and chases after them. Laureline guides him through the station from the bridge, but he ends up losing control of his ship and losing contact in the radiation zone.

Laureline goes through several tasks to be able to find his location and finds him crashed at the edge of a ridge. However, as soon as she rescues her partner, she is then kidnapped and left to be rescued. In order to save her though, Valerian has to be able to appear as one of the aliens who kidnapped her because she was taken to a forbidden area that doesn’t allow outsiders. He runs into a real sleazy area in order to find a shape-shifter, which he finds in a being named Bubble (Rihanna). With her help, the break into a throne room and can save Laureline just before she’s about to be eaten. They fight their way out, but Bubble isn’t able to withstand her injuries and dies.

Valerian and Laureline go further towards the red zone only to find that there is no radiation whatsoever in the area. The location was set to be uninhabitable because it was hiding a secret within. They find a group of aliens identical to the ones from Valerian’s dream, and they have the Commander with them. They explain that their world was destroyed because of a war happening just outside of their planet. The Commander ignored scans that showed life on the planet and used extremely dangerous weapons to win the fight, and that caused the chain reaction that destroyed the planet while he covered up his mistake.

The aliens have most of the requirements they need in order to leave and find a new home, but they need the converter in order to produce more power. After a brief argument, Valerian and Laureline hand it over to them, allowing them finally leave. The Commander tries one last time to wipe out everyone who knows his secret, but he is overpowered and subdued for arrest. The aliens head toward a new planet, and our pair of soldiers head to a beach vacation where they ponder their future together.

THAT’S THE END OF PLOT STUFF.

Sometimes, I feel the need to say the good stuff first so that we’re all aware that I didn’t entirely hate a thing.

It’s very pretty. The effects are fantastic. The countless different aliens and worlds created are all brilliantly visually realized.

I’ve already basically run out of positive things to say.

As I mentioned at the top, the script feels so very much like a first draft with all of the placeholder dialogue left in. Have you heard the cliché along the lines of “You’re a loose cannon and a maverick who has trouble with authority”, something that’s probably been said to Bruce Willis? That is almost exactly said to Valerian at one point. It’s only clichés from top to bottom.

If this had been a 90-100 minute movie, it might work a lot better, but there is nothing that can keep the audience going for almost 140 minutes. I’ve seen Dane Dehaan be a good actor in things before (he’s great in Kill Your Darlings), but I can’t get over how he literally always looks like he’s very tired. You know what happens when your lead is supposed to be Han Solo-esque but he just looks sleepy? I get sleepy, that’s what happens. This role needed either a better deadpan actor (a young Keanu Reeves perhaps) or an actor with more natural charisma (basically anyone else).

Cara Delevingne, on the other hand, handles the material fairly well. I haven’t seen her do much of anything (though to be fair, she wasn’t given much to work with in Suicide Squad), but she actually manages to hold up solidly. Granted, there’s dialogue that Daniel Day-Lewis would struggle with making authentic, but she seems to come out looking the best of the bunch.

This is only the third Luc Besson film I’ve ever seen, but part of me thinks he might actually be a not very good director who stumbles into good things sometimes? Leon: The Professional is great and I really enjoy it. I also liked The Fifth Element when I saw it, but perception seems to be more hit-or-miss as time has passed. I never heard anything concrete about Lucy either, so I assume that was fairly middling as well, which makes perfect sense with how Valerian turned out.

Also, the comic that this is based on is called Valerian And Laureline, so I think it’s pretty dumb how the female lead is kicked out of the title, especially considering she’s much more interesting.

In the end, I’m not actively mad that I saw Valerian And Title Of A Thousand Words, but I certainly won’t need to see it ever again. If a friend wanted to rent it one day in the distant future, I could survive that rewatch assuming I was provided with an ample amount of alcohol to speed up the process.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets: 5/10

Nick Potter

Co-founder of The Filmsmiths. Degree in Broadcast & Cinematic Arts with a minor in Cinema Studies from Central Michigan University. Pretty much the barbecue sauce of people but I'm doing my best.

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