Gisell Says VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS Is Frustrating Summer Sci-Fi Escapism.

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Luc Besson, the mastermind behind films: Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, and Lucy has made a name for himself in the action and sci-fi world. On this latest venture, Besson and frequent collaborator, Thierry Arbogast (cinematographer), have once again teamed up together, to invite audiences on a wide-eyed journey into the world of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Filled with the best graphics that I’ve since seen since James Cameron’s Avatar, this movie is undoubtedly, a visual marvel. The same company, Weta Digital, whom provided special effects for films like: Avatar, The Planet of the Apes films (Rise, Dawn, War), and The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit franchises helped to create the appearance of these otherworldly beings that we see throughout the film, as well as the film’s gorgeous futuristic landscape.  

This movie is actually based on stories from the French comic book series, Valerian and Laureline created by Pierre Christin with illustrations by Jean-Claude Mezieres. The popular science fiction series ran from 1967-2010, and is said to have inspired certain ideas and themes in several sci-fi films and stories, including the Star Wars films and Besson’s very own, The Fifth Element. While I haven’t read the comics, and I’m not sure how this movie measures up or how accurate its source material is by comparison, I felt that the filmmakers and creators were so preoccupied with ensuring undivided attention was given to the world-building, special effects, and 3D action, that the story and casting were put on the backburner.

Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, this film felt excessively drawn out, which made my experience of watching it, more of a chore than a delight. Even though I loved the visuals, I felt a combination of: writing, pacing, casting and runtime were the major source of my frustrations. I believe the leads left a lot to be desired, and although I like Dane DeHaan, and I’m not as acclimated in Cara Delevingne’s career of work; I know she was a model previously and she’s just getting started, so she’s exercising her acting abilities. However, I felt these two together didn’t offer anything special. Perhaps it was the story pacing or timing, but something felt off to me in regards to their chemistry, that made me neither care nor worry about either of them in the story. Dane isn’t a bad actor, but he looks and sounds about as thrilled to be in this movie as I was to see Delevingne’s character, Laureline, shove her head up a Jellyfish’s ass. Yes, that actually happened.

The film takes place in the 28th century, and the two lead characters, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are a team of special operatives that are charged with maintaining peace throughout the human territories. When they are given a task from the Minister of Defense, both of them embark on a mission to the city of Alpha, which is an ever-growing city where species from all over the universe have come together to share centuries of knowledge, intelligence, and customs with one another. At the city’s center, there is a mysterious and unknown force which jeopardizes the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and both Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the threat and defend not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

I do not doubt the ingenuity that went into making this film and the graphics are out of this world, but the story-which had great potential-was weak and its “love conquers all” message is a tired trope that I did not expect to see pop up as an easy exit-strategy to wrap things up in its closing. I expected so much more from this project, especially knowing according to some online sources, that it’s the most expensive independent film ever made, having a budget of near $180 million dollars. While Besson has a keen eye for making science fiction with style, vivid colors, and imaginative details, the writing and casting, in my opinion, could’ve been better. This film is not the worst film that I’ve seen, but I wanted more than just a sci-fi paradise of dizzying spectacle. Plenty of science fiction films can have a heart with some campy cheesiness to balance things out, but I felt this film was lacking the necessary ingredients that would’ve made this story excel across the board.

I attended a 3D showing, and while I was very excited to see this in 3D, as it is only customary and optimal for viewing a film like this; it actually caused me to have eye strain and a headache. When you’re watching a movie in the third dimension for almost two and a half hours, that’s going to take its toll on anyone, so those who are sensitive to 3D might want to keep that in mind. This film was definitely created with a younger audience in mind, as most of the film is set at a hyper speed pace, along with cool creatures and gadgets, flashy costumes, neon lights, crazy action scenes and a love story between its leads. I won’t say it wasn’t a memorable film, it was unforgettable in the context of the silly questions that I had after this film ended. Also, apparently Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke are in this, yet neither made a difference to me in terms of the story. Rihanna plays a supporting role towards the end of the film, and I neither loved nor hated her performance, she was just something else in the grand scheme of dazzling distractions on display throughout the film.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a long way from home, in terms of reaching its cinematic destination, and the story is an empty wasteland of frills, flashiness, and fluff. However, its visuals and world appearance alone are stellar, and given that so much went into the animation, art, set design, and FX, I will give this film credit where it is due. Although I didn’t really enjoy the leads in their roles, both DeHaan and Delevingne are hot commodities right now, so I can see why casting them would appeal to younger fans. If I was being brutally honest, I would rate this film low because there was so much about it that I thought was absurd, however seeing such mesmerizing special FX, grand world-building and silliness, allows me to judge it with a bit more ease, knowing what it truly is…which is pure, sci-fi summer escapism.