Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: Despite flaws, "Valerian" is a lot of visual fun

Jul 20, 2017 02:51PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - © 2017 STX Entertainment.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (STX Entertainment)

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language.

Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer, John Goodman (voice), Elizabeth Debicki (voice), Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Thom Findlay (voice), Mathieu Kassovitz, Jonas Bloquet, Sand Van Roy, Sasha Luss, Louis Leterrier, Olivier Megaton. 

Written and directed by Luc Besson, based on the graphic novels by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières.



When it comes to science fiction, there are certain brands that dominate the market. Star Trek and Star Wars are the big kids on the block, with several other comic book-inspired franchises building momentum. Perhaps long forgotten (and before the Star Wars/Trek emergence) was a little-known comic movement out of Europe that is finally seeing a little mainstream light. Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières’ Valerian comic books and graphic novels have enjoyed a cult following since the mid-1960s, and Luc Besson has now adapted the first-ever film from the series into Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, in theaters this weekend.

The setting is centuries into the future, following the expansion of a small 1970s space station orbiting Earth into a large space port that has since moved into deep outer space. The “Alpha” space city now hosts hundreds of species (besides humans), and serves as a cooperative where different alien races can share abilities, talents and knowledge. Valerian (Dane Dehaan) is a special agent for the galactic police who works with Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to keep bad guys in check while keeping the galaxy safe for all species. When the Planet Mül, inhabited by peace-loving, tall, blue, slender and nearly naked people is destroyed by a nearby battle, Valerian and Laureline are dispatched to retrieve the last rare species of the planet from mobsters. Their mission leads them to Alpha, where their commander Filitt (Clive Owen) is kidnapped by mysterious aliens. Valerian and Laureline go on a quest to rescue their leader, as a sinister plot develops surrounding the former inhabitants of Mül. Along the way, Valerian and Laureline meet a shady pimp named Jolly (Ethan Hawke) and his meal ticket Bubble (Rihanna), a shape-shifting pleasure provider who ends up helping in their quest. Eventually, our heroes discover the truth behind the destruction of Mül and must work fast safe Alpha from complete destruction.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a lot fun, with incredible visual effects and a lot of sci-fi mischief from Besson, who returns to the space genre for the first time since 1997’s the Fifth Element. It’s obvious that Besson has a soft spot for the French sci-fi comic, which perhaps inspired The Fifth Element. The movie is like a huge cinematic ice cream sundae with everything on it; indulgent to the extreme with quirky aliens, silly action, improbable outcomes and ridiculous dialogue. Even as it’s not a good idea to indulge in such treats on a regular basis, Besson’s sci-fi style should be taken in moderation. There is the possibility for overdoing it, and I’m glad Besson doesn’t make a habit of making such films.

Even with the visual treats, there are a few flaws that keep Valerian from being a great film. One of those missteps is perhaps the casting of Dehaan in the lead role, especially since he obviously upstaged (despite getting exclusive attention in the title) by Delevingne, whose charm and beauty dominate all the best scenes. Dehaan doesn’t really capture the spirit of a reformed rogue, either (like a Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis would), and comes across as a little too slimy.

Despite these missteps, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is enjoyable enough for a little summer escapism, but not exactly healthy for anyone seeking cinematic substance.  

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Trailer