by Paislee House, Film Critic
Luc Besson is somewhat of an icon. He has directed some widely recognizable movies like “The Fifth Element,” “Leon: The Professional” and he wrote the “Taken” series. Not unlike Besson’s other titles, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” has a distinct style both visually and in terms of writing. However, these quirks can’t seem to save the sinking ship that is “Valerian.”
What is most striking about “Valerian” are the on-screen images. The film is bright and full of original aliens that provide fascinating views. The most breathtaking images provided in the film are of the planet Mul, which is a crisp, luminous world populated by peaceful aliens. Outside of the idyllic world of Mul, there are plenty of cool spacecrafts zipping through time and space. Then there’s the giant amalgamation of various lifeforms and civilizations called Alpha. All of these elements are entertaining initially, but the charm of the images begins to wear off, and the more drab parts of the movie make themselves fully recognizable.
Though the movie is visually stunning, pretty pictures are not enough. “Valerian” is often laughable because the dialogue is so bad. Besson is known for serving over-the-top characters that are heroic to the point of being cheesy, but “Valerian” stumbles through Besson’s style. The two leads, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, are completely underwhelming as Valerian and Laureline, respectively. DeHaan is especially awful and does not fit into the space-hero role at all. Sure the dialogue is bad, but his delivery is painful to sit through. I wasn’t sure if it was his normal voice or a conscious decision to sound dark and serious; regardless, DeHaan as Valerian is one of the worst parts of the movie.
Terrible casting plagues “Valerian” in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently bad about whimsical roles starring unlikely celebrities, but “Valerian” employs these oddities in ways that just don’t work. At one point we are introduced to an amorphous alien played by Rihanna. Rihanna’s performance is pretty bad and so is the character she plays. The only part of Rihanna’s role that makes sense is the need for her alien powers. Strangely enough one of the only parts of “Valerian” that does work is its story. There’s plenty of action, a menacing villain and a sensible plot that is easy to follow. If only it were written and acted better, Besson might have had something worthwhile.
For dedicated Besson fans, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” merits a watch, if only to see the director achieve the unimaginable with an independently funded film. However, for the rest of us, “Valerian” falls into a well-known trap of the sci-fi genre. Its cheesy dialogue and wondrous images just aren’t enough to make up for its lackluster parts.