Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is currently making headlines, with reports coming out that this French production is the most expensive movie ever made outside of America. On the surface, the film might not appear to be much more than the foreign version of a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, and the presence of well-known stars like Clive Owen,...read more
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is currently making headlines, with reports coming out that this French production is the most expensive movie ever made outside of America. On the surface, the film might not appear to be much more than the foreign version of a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, and the presence of well-known stars like Clive Owen, Rihanna, and Ethan Hawke in supporting roles is likely meant to enhance the picture’s viability in U.S. markets. But in other ways, Valerian veers off the beaten path and presents its own unique vision, the likes of which have not often been seen in recent Hollywood cinema. The result is a movie that mixes the familiar and the unexpected -- an uneven combination that still manages to hit the mark more than it misses it.
Writer/director Luc Besson’s previous film, Lucy, was hindered by its dumbed-down and illogical brand of science-fiction; thankfully, Besson remedied many of that movie’s mistakes in Valerian, using the French comic series Valérian and Laureline as the basis for a story that is both gripping and well-constructed. Set in a distant future where humans co-exist with thousands of alien species, the film follows two young soldiers for the United Human Federation, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), as they gradually find themselves drawn into a struggle between mankind and an extraterrestrial race from the Earth-like planet Mül.
While this aspect of the story eventually sinks into heavy-handed, Avatar-like moralizing about humanity’s ruthlessness towards other species, the rest of the film -- which focuses on Valerian and Laureline’s journey through the world of Alpha, a former space station that has become the titular “city of a thousand planets” -- is a visually stunning exercise in science-fiction. Made with the help of a conglomeration of special-effects studios, Valerian eschews the cold, precisely rendered look of movies like Avatar, instead embracing a haphazard blend of visual elements that combine to create a world that looks entirely unique and completely unlike your standard Hollywood backdrop. This wonderfully diverse milieu makes the story’s myriad twists and turns fun to navigate, and will help viewers ignore the film’s weak spots.
That’s a good thing, too, since there are definitely a number of weak spots to be found when you’re not focusing on the impressive scenery. Besson relies on obnoxious gross-out humor too often, and the constant romantic banter between Valerian and Laureline is frequently as annoying as it is unnecessary. But, for better or worse, those elements will allow the movie to be marketed to a mainstream American audience, possibly creating a rare crossover success for a foreign film in the process. Even if it fails in that regard, Valerian still manages to construct an immersive world that sci-fi lovers are sure to enjoy, while its adventurous spirit should please others as well. Whether it is destined to become a cult classic or an international hit, this movie proves a welcome addition to the sci-fi genre.
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