I knew I’d like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as soon as I saw the trailers. Fair warning, I liked Valerian for exactly the same reason I liked Gods of Egypt. Visuals were simply stunning. Whether it’s underwater scenes (in a space station!) or inter-dimensional market place or just the weird poof as ships emerged from their FTL space, everything was lavishly, generously, obscenely wonderful to look at. I haven’t seen attention to aesthetics like this since Avatar, and I think this might be better.
A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.
The thing I liked most about this film was its character design. There were sleek and deadly killbots, the aquatic people build like supermodels who move like dancers, cobra-dogs and so many more. They all felt so believable and existed seamlessly in this extraordinary world. This is what Sci-Fi is all about for me – the bizarre and varied possibilities of other species and cultures. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets offered that up in spades.
For anyone who reads my reviews regularly (hi mom) here’s something you’ll never hear me say again: the writing didn’t matter. It really didn’t. From the first couple scenes it becomes obvious that the plot only needs to be there as a tour guide for the visual journey. The dialogue was awkward and off-putting and the character motivations didn’t make much sense (at least for the two main characters). I get the sense I’d missed a bit of backstory, or lost something in translation somewhere. Doesn’t matter.
I really kinda liked the casting choices. Dane DeHaan was oddly hot. I didn’t think so at first but then but nothing like a generous dollop of fan service to change my mind. Cara Delevigne was probably similar (no dog in that fight). But their conversations were odd and stilted; they seemed to have no real chemistry. Maybe I missed something in translation. But all other characters were normal – it was only strange when the two main characters talked to each other. You get used to it quickly though, it’s easy to move past. I liked Clive Owen and Sam Spruell were great as the Earth military guys and Rihanna was amazing (trust me, you’ll see).
While watching Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, I kept thinking about The Fifth Element (1997). I couldn’t put my finger on why, until I learned that the Valerian’s director, Luc Besson, also directed Fifth Element. It has the same vibe – alien civilians going about their mundane lives, impossible things that impress tourist but bore the locals, spectacular events that can only happen in a Sci-Fi universe (similar to the Opera in Fifth Element). The Mondoshawans were there and possibly a few more cameos.
So is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets worth seeing? Hell yes, I’ve already seen it twice. It has caused me to rethink my movie length requirement – turns out you can have a movie over two hours as long as you fill every second with jaw-dropping visuals. The feeling this film gave me was: wonder. I just sat there and stared and soaked it in. My logical brain turned off and I just enjoyed the pretty lights.