Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a difficult movie to explain and even tougher to sell. The commercials are basically, “A new movie produced by people who made something you like, starring some people you know, and directed by a director you like.”

What is Valerian? Well, Valerian is name of a special operative, played by Dane DeHaan, who is paired with Laureline (Cara Delevingne). The two operatives are equipped with skills and weapons for special missions assigned by the government.

What is ‘The City of a Thousand Planets’? It was formerly the International Space Station (ISS). During the opening moments, the space station is growing as more countries attach themselves to it over time. Soon, other life forms show up to the station. By the 28th century, it’s now called Alpha Station and is home to species from a thousand planets. Alpha is home to 3,236 species and over 5,000 languages spoken – it’s the most important city in the universe.

Valerian and Laureline are called to Alpha to help assist the Minister of Defense. There is a radiation growing in the center of Alpha that threatens the station’s existence. The more Valerian and Laureline investigate, they realize things aren’t exactly as they seem.

Valerian is a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good: The opening sequence chronicling the growth of the space station is beautifully done. The many different alien designs and technology are all very unique and original. The virtual reality market scene is as imaginative and entertaining as anything in sci-fi recently. The actions sequences are well done and enticing enough to keep the film interesting.

And Rihanna. Having Rihanna onscreen is always good, really good.

The bad: The plot is so-so at the beginning of the movie. Once the story unravels and the ‘why’ is explained, it’s all pretty laughable. At the center of ‘why’ is a problem that’s never shown onscreen, a problem the story itself doesn’t care about or take serioiusly. It’s beyond silly and the film could’ve done without any of it. There’s way too much over-thinking in a plot that’s better served by having a straightforward story. Sometimes simple works.

The ugly: There’s a love story between Valerian and Laureline that’s completely forced. After the amazing opening scene, the story cuts right to Valerian hitting on Laureline and saying he wants to be with her – it sucks the entire wind out of the story. Everything  falls flat. It doesn’t help that DeHaan and Delevingne don’t have any chemistry onscreen. They’re fine solo, but don’t work too well as a duo. There are moments when the story is moving along at a good pace and the love story comes out of nowhere like a record scratch and stops all the fun. The story didn’t need the two operatives falling in love. Their relationship arc adds nothing to the story. It’s just extra fat on a film that already has enough going on.

There was a review that said something along the lines of, “Valerian is fun if you can get past the dumb.” That is the perfect tagline. It’s a fun movie with an interesting premise. It’s also a film with a lot of unnecessarily dumb stuff going on. Audiences won’t be bored, and they won’t be blown away either.

Grade: C-