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Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

A bold Luc Besson aims high with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, based on a French comic series, the most expensive French film to date. The film boasts tremendous aesthetics and a vast array of designs and ideas, but the complexity of the endeavour, a wishy-washy plot and unremarkable dialogue sends it crashing back down to Earth.

Besson’s achievement is the presentation. Awash with colour, diversity and excitement, the aliens and worlds within the film baffle and amaze simultaneously. There are worlds that exist in multiple dimensions, spaceships that appear from hyperspace in flashes of bright colours, sea monsters and jellyfish, starship battles and killer robots, all impeccably designed, fluid and alive. Sometimes (though only sometimes) it’s hard to tell whether you’re looking at CGI or actors in clever prosthetics. Provided the film’s designers have not imagined every alien race possible in one go, Valerian will be a source of inspiration for sci-fi artists and authors for years to come.

With such aesthetic power and enterprise, Valerian wants to give other science fiction blockbusters a run for their money. But Disney need not fear for Star Wars‘s safety; Valerian delivers on the visuals but in other areas it is lacking.

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is the arrogant, frustrating lead, rude to his superiors and lazy while on his job. Valerian may be largely useless but he does have the power to sap whatever emotion and depth there was left in the already-weak script. Particularly grating is his capacity to dismiss his teammate/romantic interest Laureline (Cara Delevigne)’s assistance, whether it is her driving, rescuing him from disaster or just advancing the plot.

Though more competent and respectful, Laureline does not have much chance to distinguish herself much from her colleague. Both characters suffer from a thin script full of convenient dialogue-exposition, bad flirting and comedic “weird alien” speech. Critics have pointed out their will-they-won’t-they relationship; throughout the film, I crossed my fingers that, for Laureline’s sake, they wouldn’t.

If you aren’t dazzled by the special effects for the full two hours, you will inevitably notice a number of holes and contradictions in the story. For instance, Valerian and Laureline are special agents working to protect Alpha, the giant space station inhabited by countless aliens of multiple species, from an unknown threat. However, when Laureline is captured by a dopey alien race still carrying rags and brandishing spears and swords, Valerian has no problem with decapitating their king and killing his royal guard in order to rescue her. Are there double-standards at Alpha or did the director model this task force on Team America: World Police?

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is style over substance, with extraordinary graphics failing to hide plot holes and undeveloped characters. Let’s hope that Luc Besson doesn’t team up with Steven Moffat for a sequel.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is in cinemas across the UK now. Image source Youtube.com