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Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Our J.P. reviews director Luc Besson’s version of the French science fiction comics series, “Valérian and Laureline.” Previous SIDEWALKS guests Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne star in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

(Left to right.) Dane DeHaan, and Cara Delevingne star in EuropaCorp’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. (Vikram Gounassegarin)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
STX Entertainment


Directed by Luc Besson

Produced by Luc Besson, Virginie Besson-Silla

Screenplay by Luc Besson

Based on “Valérian and Laureline” by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières

Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer


Studio Synopsis:

(L to R) Star Dane DeHaan, director Luc Besson and star Cara Delevingne (Daniel Smith / STX Entertainment )

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the visually spectacular new adventure film from LUC BESSON, the legendary director of The Professional, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita and Lucy. Based on the groundbreaking comic book series that inspired a generation of artists, writers and filmmakers comes a vision a lifetime in the making.

In the 28th century, Valerian (DANE DEHAAN, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Chronicle) and Laureline (CARA DELEVINGNE, Suicide Squad, Paper Towns) comprise a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense (Oscar® and Grammy®-award winning composer HERBIE HANCOCK) the two embark on a mission to the astonishing city of Alpha — an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with one another. There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, a dark force that threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Rihanna plays Bubble, a shapeshifting entertainer (Daniel Smith / STX Entertainment)

Starring alongside DeHaan and Delevingne is an accomplished troupe of performers and newcomers to the big screen led by CLIVE OWEN (Children of Men, television’s “The Knick”), ETHAN HAWKE (The Purge, Training Day), JOHN GOODMAN (Atomic Blonde, 10 Cloverfield Lane), KRIS WU (XXX: Return of Xander Cage, Journey To the West: The Demons Strike Back) and RUTGER Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets—Production Information 2 HAUER (Blade Runner, Batman Begins). In a stunning performance, global pop icon RIHANNA (upcoming Ocean’s Eight) makes her debut in the fantasy film genre.

Written and directed by Besson, the story for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on the “Valerian and Laureline” graphic-novel series by PIERRE CHRISTIN and JEAN-CLAUDE MÉZIÈRES, first published in 1967 by DARGAUD. In this global effort, Besson is joined by a production team of longtime collaborators, one led by producer VIRGINIE BESSON-SILLA (Lucy, The Family). Their heads of production include director of photography THIERRY ARBOGAST (Lucy, The Fifth Element), Oscar®-winning composer ALEXANDRE DESPLAT (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game), production designer HUGUES TISSANDIER (Lucy, Taken), editor JULIEN REY (Lucy, The Family), costume designer OLIVIER BÉRIOT (Lucy, Taken) and Oscar®-winning visual effects supervisor SCOTT STOKDYK (Oz the Great and Powerful, Spider-Man 2). The film is executive produced by MARK GAO (upcoming Replicas), GREGORY OUANHON (The Transporter Refueled) and JC CHENG (The Precipice Game). Powered by the imagination of Besson, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets takes audiences on an unforgettable intergalactic adventure.

J.P.’s Take:

A K-Tron Warrior (Eric Gandois / STX Entertainment)

Luc Besson’s cinematic vision of the French comic series, “Valerian & Laureline,” created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, may seem vibrant, imaginative and wildly entertaining on the surface. However, don’t get your hopes to high. Underneath all the bright, ultra-futuristic façade lies a story that trudges along like an elephant in mud. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” starts out with inspirational nods to building alliances with other worlds and species. Thereafter, things begin to deviate sporadically from the main plot.

One of the problems dragging this sci-fi adventure down is the set-up. If you’re a niche fan with inside knowledge about the world of Valerian, you’d be wide eyed and full of joy watching it. If, like me, you are new to the titles and characters — you’d want some kind of back story. Something that is amiss here altogether. Who are our heroes? Where did they come from? Why are they on this mission? At least, the third question is somewhat answered, yet don’t expect a cohesive tale to be woven here. In order to build suspense, excitement or fun, you have to bring those elements I mentioned above to the forefront. Or at least mesh them into the story as a whole. Give us something to route for. Despite Besson’s stylistically crafted visual tour de force, I felt we were simply dropped midway into a series not fully realized. Therefore, I find it difficult to truly invest our attention into the players.

I will admit that the characters are – if for a moment – likeable. I did like Cara Delevinge’s spunkiness as the intrepid Laureline. Dane DeHaan could be a hero in the making, in spite of his cocky-lunk headed antics. Yet, the chemistry between them didn’t feel genuine enough. Nothing could be further from comical than the dryly conceived banter between all characters in the film. Not so much as a chuckle passed my lips. Well, maybe one or two. I wasn’t the only one. Judging by the crickets in the theater, I don’t think I’ve heard many giggles floating through out. The only true source of comedy comes from the three winged creatures, who were informants to Laureline in times of crisis.

The Doghan Daguis (STX Entertainment)

I will say this Besson does have a child like mind, when it comes to stylistic film making, as seen in his personal project, 1997 sci-fi hit “The Fifth Element.” Both “Valerian” and “The Fifth Element” have costumes and worlds that were crafted with high fashion and advanced concepts. In terms of sci-fi, I will go as far as saying “The Fifth Element” is the benchmark of space operas for the French filmmaker. It is his “Star Wars” so to speak.

Knowing how Besson can masterfully create atmospheric cinematic pleasures, I went into this intergalactic adventure with some since of jubilation –thinking it would be just as giddy as “The Fifth Element.” Unfortunately it is the opposite. Instead, I found a meandering tale and cookie cutter performances, which really didn’t exude the same energy as the visuals.

Where I do give Besson credit is for meshing operatic sci-fi nuances with European quirkiness that sets this film a part from American filmmakers. All in all, it could have been more enjoyable had it been tighter; more condensed in plot and time.

About J.P. Langston

J.P. Langston is a member of "Sidewalks Entertainment" team primarily as a videographer. He loves movies, especially sci-fi horror and action comedies. Some of his favorite films include "Blade Runner" "The Matrix Trilogy," The (original) "Star Wars," "Equilibrium," "Serenity," "Kill Bill Vols 1 and 2," "Appleseed," "Unbreakable" and "Sin City." He has a large DVD collection, which is still growing. Since reviewing films for "Sidewalks," he has been expanding his palette for all types of films.