Kyle J. Steenblik

Valerian & The City of A Thousand Planets is Sci-Fi at its Best [Review]

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Valerian & The City of A Thousand Planets
Directed by Luc Besson
Screenplay by Luc Besson
Based on Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer
Running time 137 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language

4 stars out of 5In the 28th century, special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline work together to maintain order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the minister of defense, the duo embarks on a mission to Alpha, an ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture. When a dark force threatens the peaceful city, Valerian and Laureline must race against time to identify the menace that also jeopardizes the future of the universe.

Valerian & The City of A Thousand Planets is exactly what a science fiction film should be; a little cheesy, over the top, visually stunning, and immersivity entertaining. The latest from Luc Besson is the film I needed right now in my life, it was the perfect escape from reality. The story, while it seemed to meander and loose itself at times, was not so challenging as to overwhelm, leaving the audience free to get lost in the incredible visual effects, and the world Besson built. The argument that the world needs more science fiction films, specifically good science fiction, is one for another day, and has no place in this review. However, I will say that Valerian & The City of A Thousand Planets is the premiere example I would use for that argument.

Luc Besson has a spotted track record of great and awful films as a screenwriter, which is easy to achieve when you have over 60 credits to your name, as a director that record is better. Besson’s films are terrific example of imported forging films. His are French films, but he films them in English because the English audience is larger than the French. Language aside, he makes French films with no adaptation other than language for American audiences. Anyone that has had a significant level of exposure to French cinema can attest to the difference in style and realism when compared to American films. Our American sensibilities will see exaggerations in every frame, from over the top acting to costumes that appear far from practical. Essentially, what it boils down to is that it is an art that attempts to separate itself from reality as much as possible. This is what I am keeping in mind when I judge a film Luc Besson has directed, which is why I have been accused in the past of being too kind to this director.

Valerian & The City of A Thousand Planets was like watching a comic book spring from the page to the screen, it was visually bombastic and sparks the imagination. Immediately it was understood that this universe was expansive and rich with history. I did enjoy the fact that each character and relationship was already developed, as if this was just one of several stories from the adventures of Valérian and Laureline. Which, after this film, is a series I would gladly watch.

The visual effects and style are difficult to describe, because they are genuinely unique, the only comparison that comes to mind is from Besson’s Fifth Element. The primary difference is that the effects in Valerian are more expansive and digital. I was personally in awe of how incredible this film looked, in fact I might have been distracted from the story a time or two. That distraction may have been due to a lag in the narrative as much as it was to a captivating visual.

The story is definitely the weak link in this film, followed closely by the performance of Dane DeHaan who appeared to be almost uncomfortable with his character. The primary weakness I believe was the length of the film, leaving some lulls in the pace where Besson seems to have relied on visual effects to carry the audience to the crest of the next wave of action. There were also some plot points that didn’t quite seem to fit, but I believe that is an artifact of the French style of storytelling, which is to say that sometimes things happen that are not directly related to the point A to B style of American storytelling. Regardless the somewhat inconsistent narrative didn’t detract from my personal enjoyment of the film.

I think Valerian & The City of A Thousand Planets is bound to become a successful cult film. I personally hope it will be successful enough to justify a sequel, because I do want to see more of this universe, which is a beautiful escape from reality.

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