Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets Is All Shine But Zero Substance

Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevingne Clive Owen, Sam Spruell, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Rutger Hauer and Rihanna
Studio: Europacorp/STX
Rated: PG
Running Time: 2 Hrs, 17 Mins

Remember that kid in high school who was so beautiful they were approachable only by your school’s other social elite? They seemed so perfect that you were convinced they were an angel cast down from heaven. Every school had at least one and they could have been male or female, but they were the pinnacle of human physical perfection and teenage desire. And then, one day, the stars aligned just right and you got the rare chance to talk to them.

And that’s when you found out that they were about as deep as a shallow teaspoon (unless you were blinded by teenage hormones). That pretty much sums up basically Luc Besson’s long awaited but completely vacuous science fiction epic Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets to a T.

For centuries, the Alpha space station has grown in Earth’s orbit, first with various human civilizations adding ships and section to it before alien cultures followed suit. But eventually the station grew too large to safely orbit Earth and it was forced to leave our solar system in search of a new home. Alpha has spent the centuries since wandering the stars, continuing to grow and absorb other cultures, languages and peoples into one vast, space-faring civilization.

Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Sergeant Lauraline are elite operatives charged with the protection of Alpha. When a new threat from inside Alpha rises, the two find themselves trying to unravel a mystery rooted in the past that touches Alpha’s highest levels of political power. Along the way they explore some of the seedier parts of Alpha all while Valerian, a womanizer who keeps a play list of his sexual exploits, tries to prove his undying love for Lauraline.

Valerian doesn’t merely look great; it’s downright beautiful. It’s vibrant colours and bold visuals build a brilliant sci-fi landscape. Valerian isn’t just spectacle, it’s an immersive visual feast and no other movie so far this year has done such an excellent world-building job. This was a pricy pic to make (based on a popular French comic book, Luc Besson has been trying to bring this to life for the better part of his career) and it’s obvious they invested the majority of its 200 million dollar plus budget in FX, make-up and character design. A combination of CGI and practical effects, Valerian will definitely keep your eyes busy.

With that being said . . .

One of its biggest problems is the acting. Dehaan is unconvincing as both an action hero and a ladies man who can has plenty of notches on his bedpost. Delevingne is wooden and the two share zero chemistry, killing the romantic and sexual tension that’s central to their relationship. Performers with more gravitas like Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke are relegated to supporting roles and the two young leads are completely unable to shoulder the movie’s weight.

But the acting isn’t nearly a problematic as the writing. Dehaan and Delevingne may not be the best at line delivery, but too much of the dialogue is clumsily written and the jokes fall flat on paper, denying anyone in the film the chance to try and salvage the story.

The story itself relies way too much on outdated, sexist tropes. The suave leading man with a list of sexual conquests, the commitment hungry object of his affections just waiting to be lured out of her comfort zone by a bad boy, these were outdated in the 90’s let alone today. And Rihanna’s shape shifting, empathic alien seems to exist only to please men sexually. It’s nearly as unsettling as the dialogue, which tries (and fails) to be witty.

Given how long Besson has waited to bring Valerian to the silver screen, and what he went through to bring it to cinematic life, the results are beyond disappointing. Outside of the special effects and some of the inventive toys and set pieces, Valerian offers absolutely nothing else of value. Like that impossibly beautiful kid in high school, Valerian is nice to look at but has little substance at its heart.

You won’t miss anything by giving this one a pass.