“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” the newest space opera by Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Lucy”) has its moments when it feels like an impressive fantasy sci-fi film, while the rest of the time it appears to be an average, often cheesy and sometimes under whelming space adventure.
Many critics are saying that while this film boasts attractive special effects, other areas are extremely lacking. My thoughts differ a bit from this general opinion, and I’ll tell you why I think this film appeals to certain viewers.
Based on the French comic book series Valerian and Laureline, the film follows special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) as they investigate a disturbance on Alpha, a home to species from a thousand planets and the center of knowledge and culture in the universe. With only each other to trust, the space operatives must identify the threat and race to save the world by traveling to foreign places and discovering new things that they could never imagine.
I joke that it should’ve been called, “Valerian and the Movie Made up of a Thousand Other Movies,” because I constantly had glimpses of other sci-fi fantasy films like “Star Wars,” “John Carter,” “The Matrix,” “Jupiter Ascending,” and “The Fifth Element,” to name a few. It’s like a mix-match of different concepts, technology, creatures, weaponry, and space crafts from just about any other film of similar genre that you can think of. Most of all, it’s the best and worst parts of these films.
The film features an assortment of actors from DeHaan and Delevingne, to others like Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, John Goodman, and Clive Owen. The dialogue between the two leads starts off a bit tiring but begins to grow on you as the movie progresses. Similarly, I wasn’t sold on DeHaan to carry this film, but Delevingne seems to pick up the slack nicely. While some of them can appear a bit cartoony or animated, the various environments, different planets and creatures look quite well from a special effect standpoint.
The visuals vary, but are quite pleasurable at times. While they alone don’t make for a quality film, other aspects seem to balance the scales for a fan of the average space opera. Quite often, the audience is taken on a sort of acid trip-fantasy, sci-fi space adventure that rivals anything of its nature. Other times, it’s the usual hit and miss, generic film. It’s as if the film can’t decide what identity it wants, which is why my consensus here goes back and forth at every turn.
The way I see it, critics and even the general public can deem some movies to be “bad,” but that doesn’t always mean it’s not worth your time. “Valerian” is an example of one of these films in my mind. A part of the film is unique and very attractive. Other times it feels like a cheap spoof or knock off version of the other films mentioned. It really comes down to whether or not you appreciate a film of this genre or something else like a specific actor, plot, or visuals that peaks your interest -- anything that can make a bad film good to a certain audience.
Besson, the writer and director of the film, personally funded and independently crowd-sourced the movie, making it the most expensive indie film ever made. With a production budget of more than $200 million, it is reported that the film has to make more than $350 million to break even and justify a sequel. Besson doubted himself in the beginning and didn’t even consider making this film until well after he made “The Fifth Element,” simply because the right technology didn’t yet exist to make the film he wanted. Time will tell if audiences around the world can see his vision.
After all the back and forth, it comes down to this: for someone like me that enjoys these types of films, there’s not doubt I’m glad I saw “Valerian.” Yes, it has its issues like most films do, but I can appreciate what Besson was trying to do here. In the end, he made a hit and miss, average space adventure, which does have moments of greatness. It’s a film that almost any age can enjoy if parents are looking to take their kids, and if there was ever a film to be seen in 3D, it’s this one.
This film is currently playing in theaters.
3 out of 5 stars.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language. Running time is 2 hours and 17 minutes. This film is currently playing in theaters.