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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets


Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Rutger Hauer, Peter Hudson, Xavier Giannoli, Louis Leterrier, Eric Rochant, Benoit Jacquot, Sasha Luss, Aymeline Valade, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivier Megaton and the voices of Robbie Rist and John Goodman.

Screenplay by Luc Besson.

Directed by Luc Besson.

Distributed by STX. 137 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Writer/director Luc Besson obviously has an active imagination and a smart artistic eye. He has been responsible for some fine films over the years: Léon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, even the first Taken movie. So, I’m not sure why at this point in his career, he pretty much insists on being the French Michael Bay.

On the plus side, many of the special effects in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets are mostly rather impressive and mind-boggling. On the minus side, the movie looks and feels grimy, the dialogue is awful, the action is not exciting, the actors are lifeless, the characters are annoying, the leads have no romantic or physical spark, and the story is absolutely fucking ridiculous.

Oh yeah, and the plot basically revolves around a cute alien lizard creature that poops magical energy pearls. Yeah, you read that right.

Back in the ‘80s, small exploitation houses like Cannon Films and Vestron used to make cheap space adventures to play third in a drive-in triple-feature or to loiter unnoticed in the sci-fi sections of video stores – cheesy crap along the lines of Battle Beyond the Stars, Galaxina, Saturn 3, Megaforce and the like. Valerian probably belongs in this sorry company, though honestly it may not even be good enough to pass muster even with these pathetic losers. If nothing else, none of these older films took themselves seriously.

And those films were made on a shoestring budget, while Besson wasted $225 million dollars to make this visually interesting, but storyline-bankrupt space opera.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets seems to think it is an important film, a potential blockbuster, possibly even the beginning of a long-running series. (Please, God, no!)

What it really is, and I cannot stress this enough, is a completely muddled and ridiculous waste of over two hours of your life; an orgy of mindless violence, sparkless romance, crass political commentary and pseudo-philosophy. Watching a blank screen for that long would be more intellectually and emotionally stimulating.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is apparently based on a French comic book series I’ve never heard of called Valérian and Laureline. I can’t really speak on how good or bad the series is, though since it is a long-running cult favorite I must assume that it’s better than its cinematic cousin.

A big part of the problem is, quite simply, the two leads are awful. Dane DeHaan, who is a competent actor, seems to be channeling Bruce Willis in one of the later, bad Die Hard sequels. He never quite comes off as an action figure, and he has zero romantic or sexual chemistry with his winsome co-star. He sets off more sparks with a giant blue tub of goo alien shapeshifter (voiced and periodically played by pop star Rihanna) than he ever has with his stunningly beautiful hard-ass co-pilot, who he keeps asking to marry him.

About that co-star… Cara Delevingne is gorgeous, but did not connect with a single emotion. I know it’s easy pickings to point out that the supermodel can’t really act, but her monotone line readings and lack of facial expressions quickly got distracting. I’ll even give her the benefit of the doubt that it was not totally her fault. She’s a model, not an actress. A smarter (or at least more conscientious or actor-friendly) director could have probably coaxed a better performance out of her. Besides, forced to recite the lines she was given, even Meryl Streep would have come out looking ridiculous.

The most entertaining part of Valerian was Rihanna on a stripper pole. Let’s face it, you don’t have to sit through this movie to find footage of Rihanna on a stripper pole. Another oddball cameo (in fact, it was in the same section) was Ethan Hawke’s affected (and borderline offensive) performance as an effeminate, lisping, face-pierced space pimp. And how the hell did they talk respected jazz-fusion musician Herbie Hancock into doing a cameo role in which his character was only shown on video communication monitors?

If Valerian isn’t the worst movie this year, it’s going to be pretty damned close. It’s certainly the dregs of what I have seen so far. Expect to see this movie on a whole slew of year-end “Worst of 2017” lists.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: July 21, 2017.

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