Luc Besson takes us on a SciFi adventure like no other. But can his first film in more than three years deliver?

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Welcome to Alpha, the city of a thousand planets. Where for centuries all the species shared their wisdom and wealth. But these golden times are coming to a close as a mysterious evil deep within Alpha threatens to tear it apart. After agents Valerian and Laureline complete an undercover mission they get pulled into a universe spreading conspiracy. Who can they trust on their way into the depths of Alpha as they start to unravel its secrets.

Doing SciFi is hard. Not only is it expensive if you want to do it properly. It is also a genre, that comes in more or less three basic flavors. One is the SciFi-Action Film. Simple, entertaining and not so concerned with plot development or brilliant characters. Which is not bad, Pacific Rim was excellent but not really ready for the Oscars if you know what I mean. The next flavor does its best to get the science part right, less action, mid-tier characters with space and technology taking center stage. And finally there’s the fantasy centric flavor. Cool characters, astonishing wonders in the depths of space, who cares how the science works. Star Wars comes to mind. And it’s brilliant. What’s less brilliant, is a situation in which one film tries to be all of those at once, just like Valerian. And it all started so promising. From a highly effective opening, that did an astounding job to introduce Alpha and its history, to the first alien planet and the first visit to Alpha. Rarely have I seen such creativity in alien species and planet design. Sure, many creatures still walk on two legs, but as we accompany the main characters to a visit of a inter-dimensional marketplace early in the film, things start to go crazy rapidly. But aside from that, there’s unfortunately not much to love. The story is fairly standard and fails to push any boundaries whatsoever, even though the main plot device, an indigenous alien species (Avatar flashbacks come to mind), was genuinely sympathetic.

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The movie is paced like an old serial and the DVD designers should have no problems in splitting it up into chapters. And some of these „chapters“ work better than others. The inter-dimensional market is incredible, evoking similarities to virtual reality and simultaneously serving as a great satire on tourism clichés all over the world. Some others just bring the story to a screeching halt. The story’s biggest, most jarring detour, when Valerian sets out to rescue a captured Laureline, essentially stops the narrative momentum flat in a sequence that offers a lot of zany, kid-friendly humor which actress Cara Delevingne, unfortunately, can’t quite sell. And that’s the films biggest problem, the empty center of it all; it’s main characters. Their relationship is contrived and lacks dimension, and Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne simply don’t have much chemistry. They’re the two characters with the lowest stakes in this story and are the least interesting ones to spend time with, which is obviously of major importance when they are the leads.

Ultimately Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is visually stunning and narratively hollow. I still recommend every SciFi fan go see it, if only for all the imaginative details in every shot and the gorgeous use of special effects throughout its more than two hour run time. Just don’t expect any kind of masterpiece.

Beitragsbild: Kevin Wendlandt
Bilder: Universum Film