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Movie Review: ‘Valerian’ Has a Thousand Ideas, Little Personality

You can tell that Luc Besson wrote and directed this sci-fi adventure with the way he places his efforts more on developing a fantastic galaxy of starships and aliens than most of the characters that occupy the universe of Valerian. While he does make the smart call of overloading the screen with as many visually stunning and original ideas as possible, he forgot to place some of this ingenuity into his leads.

How could I possibly relate to the special agent duo of Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) when their light romantic talk comes in the form of cold exposition of stating personality traits? The movie apparently doesn’t have time to establish Valerian as a brash, headstrong and lady-killer of a young man and would rather Laureline list these traits without a hint of emotion. If this is the way humans speak in the future, we might as well let the robots conquer our species.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review MovieSpoon.com
Shocked at their lack of chemistry?

What the film lacks in humans that speak like humans, it makes up for with some of the most grand special effects for the most original of sci-fi tales (even if it is based on a comic book). In the future, the International Space Station expands from a scientific hub of Earth’s nationalities to a society of other galaxies and races. The station continues to expand until it’s so large that it must leave Earth and become its own city of sorts. In its current state, the station occupies thousands of different aliens that all contribute for the betterment of the galaxy.

Besson makes sure we get to see as much of this city as possible, past the typical military bridges and towering skyscrapers we’ve seen in dozens of other sci-fi pictures. There’s a robot collective that runs all the information technology and banking among towering servers that are constantly monitored and repaired. Delicate fish-like creatures develop all sorts of living cells that could cure just about anything. As utopian as that sounds, I like how Besson never makes this colony that simple or peaceful. The collective districts of this environment exist as separate nations with their own laws and economy. With the human sector suffering an economic depression, the stern Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen) seeks a means of restoring their government’s strength with some shady decisions made behind the scenes.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review MovieSpoon.com
Interesting designs abound in ‘Valerian.’

His plan involves an alien race that is given the most stunning of introductions. The creatures, with their bald, tall and thin figures, occupy a world that thrives on magical spheres that emit energy and light up their skin. Their planet is decimated during some battle and now they’ve gone on the offensive in the shadows. Their philosophy isn’t too different from most aliens that approach their lives with a tranquil oneness with nature, but they’re presented in more detail than you usually get out of sci-fi pulp.

But, wait, where are Valerian and Laureline in all this? They’re along for the ride, but are more or less vessels in how their chemistry is lacking for a couple that hasn’t quite decided on getting married. The scenes they occupy are amazing, however, as in the opening heist on a desert commerce planet. Tourists wander around an empty space with virtual reality goggles that allow them to interact with another dimension. Valerian and Laureline are able to infiltrate this dimension with an elaborate scheme of matter-shifting boxes, floating guns, mind-hacked guards and a hover-bus.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review MovieSpoon.com
Valerian and Laureline may be boring, but at least they do cool stuff.

Another pleasant detour occurs inside the Thousand Planet city where the duo must best a society of doltish aliens that want to eat Laureline’s brain for lunch. When the two find themselves apart, they resort to great lengths of seeking a memory-displaying jellyfish to find each other. Nothing says “I love you” like shoving your face into a jellyfish’s butt to find your lover.

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